Journalists often face tough ethical decisions. To decide what to do, we often follow guidelines or policies – founded on principles. One such principle is that you don’t use anonymous sources unless a person’s life or job is at risk if you identify them.
That’s a good policy and normally I would agree with that. I’m a big believer in saying what you mean, meaning what you say, and putting your name to it. However, in the case of the Jian Ghomeshi allegations, The Toronto Star knew the names of four women they interviewed, but didn’t print them and that was used by some to undermine the credibility of the women. Three women say that the former CBC radio host assaulted them while a fourth accused him of making lewd remarks and groping her.
If it was a 1 vs. 1, the Star probably wouldn’t have gone with the story, despite the reputation Ghomeshi had. But Jesse Brown was willing to investigate the story after getting the first call and got similar stories from four women. Amazingly, Jesse Brown said on Twitter that this story still wasn’t going to run and was dead in the water until Ghomeshi’s now infamous Facebook post on Oct. 26 gave the Star “what it needed to publish.”
That four vs. one justified protecting their identities because it was clearly a story about a pattern that had to be told. When it was told, it became an 8 vs. 1, with someone willing to be identified, then 9 vs. 1, with two willing to be identified, and now we have two women filing a complaint with the police. Do you see how this is trending?
We were at the edge of a cliff, looking across a narrow gorge to another cliff. It was a place we had to get to and the only way to get there was to jump. But no, we have a policy of never jumping off cliffs. You know what policies can be sometimes? Not merely guidelines, but excuses to avoid making important decisions. This is life, there are no absolutes, so saying you always have to follow a policy or a guideline is the easy way out.
Every day, the way we treat other people is an important step in improving the world. But there are times when all of us – not just journalists – are going to be presented with an opportunity to make a greater impact on the society or world we live in. Often, it will present itself as an option between doing the right thing or following a policy.
When faced with that decision, consider the implications and ask yourself these questions. What kind of world do I want? Do I have to chance to make this a better world –– not just for yourself, but for others? Clearly, the status quo needs some improvements. When women like Lucy DeCoutere and Reva Seth can experience what they went through and don’t come forward because they don’t think their allegations will be taken seriously, our society has a serious problem. A problem that won’t go away if we leave it to others to change. Awareness and moral support are great, but acting when you get a chance to make a difference is what we really need.
Like when reporter Jesse Brown believed that woman. Then three more joined her and were brave enough to share their story with the world.
Now, Toronto police are investigating Ghomeshi.