MAR. 4, 2015 — This ethics committee report has been updated.
OTTAWA, FEB. 16, 2016 — Whenever journalists encounter sexual assault complainants, they confront a complex relationship with myriad ethical considerations, says a new discussion paper from the Canadian Association of Journalists’ ethics advisory committee.
The trial of ex-CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi is the most recent example of a case that saw sexual assault complainants—in some cases anonymously, others publicly—speak to reporters about their experiences. They’ve reminded many newsrooms of the sensitivity of that process.
“The entire Ghomeshi case—from the initial accusations, to the charges, to the trial—brings into sharp relief the challenges sexual assault complainants face when they agree to be interviewed by the media,” says Lisa Taylor, lead author of the paper. “The fact that complainants can be cross-examined on the comments they make to journalists, and that their stories can be dissected in social media, is a reminder of all that a complainant is saying yes to when they agree to be interviewed.”
When they attach their names to their comments, says Taylor, the stakes are even higher. “The scrutiny becomes even more intense when a complainant decides that they want to be publicly named in news reports.”
The committee’s discussion paper offered journalists a series of guidelines and ethical considerations on informed consent, verification, and innovative ways to protect complainants. The authors hope these suggestions “offer complainants a greater degree of protection in the digital sphere.”
The CAJ’s ethics advisory committee considers and provides advice on ethical issues faced by journalists through the course of their regular work. Members are appointed by the CAJ’s national board of directors, and the chair is appointed by the board from among the committee members. Every report is peer-reviewed by the full committee.
The Canadian Association of Journalists is a professional organization with more than 600 members across Canada. The CAJ’s primary roles are public-interest advocacy work and professional development for its members.
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Assistant professor, Ryerson University