Toronto Star

Left to face the brutal brunt of public vitriol

- Shree Paradkar Twitter: @ShreeParad­kar

Content warning: Disturbing language

There were the emails that said “Go back 2 ur country. You dumb Paki c-t just want to bring shariah law to Canada” and “hope you end up in the rape fields with ISIS.” The other that said “you’re just another pathetic globalist on the payroll.” Yet another that called her a “s- stained affirmatio­n hire.”

“As demoralizi­ng as a lot of those emails were,” Global News’ AM640 talk show host Supriya Dwivedi told listeners on Nov. 27, “… it was different when I was the focal point or my husband was the focal point.” Then her voice shook as she choked back tears.

“It’s really different when someone starts to target your kid,” she said. She had begun receiving emails that referenced rape threats to her infant. I will not reproduce them here.

“So this is my last show.” It’s no surprise with the spread of social media that women in the public eye bear the brutal brunt of public vitriol, more so than their male colleagues.

Nearly three-quarters (73 per cent) of 1,210 women journalist­s in a new survey by the Internatio­nal Center for Journalist­s (ICJ) said they had experience­d online abuse, harassment, threats and attacks.

For comparison, a 2014 survey of about 1,000 women found 23 per cent had experience­d such abuse.

Physical attacks are frequently preceded by online threats, the new report says.

“Online attacks against women journalist­s are often accompanie­d by threats of harm to others connected to them, or those they interact with, as a means of extending the ‘chilling effect’ on their journalism,” ICJ said.

“Anonymous, vitriolic attacks confirm being a female journalist still makes you a mark for trolls no matter how much ‘real world’ progress has been made,” CTV senior editor Lisa LaFlamme told Rachel Pulfer, executive director for Journalist­s for Human Rights, for that group’s recent report Half the Story is Never Enough.

Pulfer was among four women who penned the paper published by Journalist­s for Human Rights and Canadian Commission for UNESCO. The other three were Ryerson Prof. Karyn Pugliese, who offered Indigenous perspectiv­es, Sandra Bashengezi from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nisreen Anabli, who shared her findings in Syria.

The data on abuse coupled with an escalation of threats requires newsrooms to urgently adopt muscular policies to protect staff. They include: implementi­ng a police complaint protocol, banning abusive emails from corporate servers, filtering emails for abusive language and providing emotional and mental health support for staff receiving this barrage.

Once they do all that, our notoriousl­y white newsrooms will still have only partially addressed the problem. Female journalist­s of colour receive particular kinds of abuse: many who face racism within newsrooms and struggle for their ideas to be taken seriously and to get promoted also face racist, misogynist­ic public abuse on the job.

Indigenous women experience higher levels of violence and sexualized violence than other women, or Indigenous men, wrote Pugliese, who interviewe­d 15 female Indigenous journalist­s. “Journalism does not protect female Indigenous journalist­s from these experience­s; instead, they face additional risks.”

Journalist­s who complain of abuse — one said she was called ‘stupid s-w, dirty s-w, put your camera away, you dumb s-w’ — are often told to “suck it up. It’s not that bad,” she said at a panel discussion Wednesday.

Dwivedi is the only racialized weekday radio host at AM640.

Her previous co-host Matt Gurney, a white man, calls the difference in mails they received an “A and B test of vitriol.”

“For the time she and I worked literally side by side, though, I saw in real time the kind of response she’d get (via email and social) compared to what I’d get,” Gurney tweeted on Wednesday. “It wasn’t even close. The abuse levelled at her and I, often by the same people, was materially different.”

Dwivedi said in an interview she had flagged to her station manager a pattern she noticed: that the hate mail often coincided with commentary by other hosts or guests at the station, especially when they made factually inaccurate comments about immigrants, refugees, Muslims or other targeted groups.

“You can’t claim our borders are being controlled by the UN,” she told me.

In 2018, after Dwivedi corrected factually inaccurate statements made on-air around the Global Compact for Migration, she received an email that said “If you like the illegals so much, you should go have your clit burnt off and your ass torn up through ritual gang rape before being sold off.”

“Corus could have said to the other hosts, maybe don’t use the word globalist. It hurts Supriya’s inbox,” Dwivedi said. Globalist is a vague term linked to alt-right conspiracy theories.

In September, Dwivedi sent a legal note to her employer to begin the process of exiting the company.

A month later Dwivedi, who said she didn’t feel she was taken seriously by her employer, filed a complaint against Corus Entertainm­ent — which owns Global News — at the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

“Corus has not taken steps to address the underlying systemic issue that has set me up to receive these messages,” she wrote. “They have not put in place or enforced editorial standards that would require hosts to make sure that their views are supported by facts, nor have they required hosts to correct the record following any false statements they make.”

A Corus spokespers­on told the Star this was not true. “To suggest that Corus tolerates, let alone encourages, the disseminat­ion of misinforma­tion is false,” a spokespers­on said Wednesday. “Talk radio, by its very nature, is designed to encourage a healthy debate and a broad range of opinions. We take seriously our responsibi­lity to ensure that debate is informed by facts.”

But Dwivedi told me, “Whenever the news cycle involved talk of immigratio­n or Black Lives Matter or Indigenous issues, my inbox was a trash fire. Because of the way my hours are (she was at work at 4:30 a.m.), I’d wake up and depending on the evening I’d wake up to a barrage of really, really sh---y emails.” The rights commission has not yet said if it will accept the case.

Corus’s legal response to the exit letter from Dwivedi’s lawyer framed the abuse in “suck it up” terms:

“To a large extent, public opinion is a function of the job and career path which your client chose. She did not ‘sign on’ to be a banker in an executive suite. Instead, she accepted a position in talk radio on a station with a significan­t conservati­ve listenersh­ip … It behooves her ill to now blame Corus for that career choice,” lawyer Howard Levitt wrote.

Levitt added that Dwivedi hadn’t raised many of the issues she was complainin­g about.

His response portrayed Dwivedi’s concerns of misinforma­tion as intoleranc­e of opposing views.

“If your client wishes to leave her role because she finds views dramatical­ly different than her own to be antithetic­al to her continued employment, or cannot tolerate the trolls of social media, than [sic] she does not belong in talk radio host as practiced in North America.”

Corus’s written statement to the Star said it was unreasonab­le to suggest that “the solution to social media abuse of someone holding one opinion is to censor other colleagues who hold contrary opinions.”

The spokespers­on said the company took social media abuse seriously. “We have a range of tools and resources in place to support our people who experience targeted abuse, and we continue to explore new solutions.”

“Whenever the news cycle involved talk of immigratio­n or Black Lives Matter or Indigenous issues, my inbox was a trash fire.” SUPRIYA DWIVEDI FORMER AM640 TALK SHOW HOST

What is the impact of this abusive juggernaut rolling around the globe? Many women are fighting back, many others are withdrawin­g from online commentary, the ICJ report shows. Some like Dwivedi are leaving journalism altogether and young women who hear about this toxicity are deterred from entering the field of journalism at all. This retreat from the public space threatens the course of human rights.

It wasn’t easy, Dwivedi said, leaving her job in the middle of a pandemic. It’s not like she has another one lined up.

“Yeah, many people say you’re letting them win,” Dwivedi told me. “Maybe they do win. But I’m not going to roll the dice on my kid’s safety.”

 ?? RENÉ JOHNSTON TORONTO STAR ?? Supriya Dwivedi recently resigned from her high-profile job as host of Global News’ AM640 morning talk show after an unending barrage of hate mail finally culminated in a threat to her infant.
RENÉ JOHNSTON TORONTO STAR Supriya Dwivedi recently resigned from her high-profile job as host of Global News’ AM640 morning talk show after an unending barrage of hate mail finally culminated in a threat to her infant.
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