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No excuse for attacks on journalists

August 22, 2018

Good reporters ask hard questions. They challenge what you say, and you better have the facts to back you up.

 

The fact is, tough reporters make me better at my job, and that serves the public. I know I need to be on top of things to get my message across. By challenging me and other subjects in their stories, journalists play an invaluable service and their work is at the heart of a functioning democracy.

 

Not all seem to agree, however.

 

Toronto Sun photojournalist Stan Behal was attacked on August 11 while doing his job, taking photos and shooting video at an anti-hate rally outside city hall in Toronto. With one eye shut and the other in the viewfinder of his camera, Behal couldn't see the attack coming. It was unprovoked, and his attacker has so far gone free.

 

It doesn't matter that Behal works for the Sun, a paper some on the left like to criticize. It doesn't matter that his attacker was attending an anti-fascism rally, a point brought up on social media by right wingers. It doesn't matter that Behal is a member of Unifor, and even sits on the executive of one of our media locals.

 

What does matter is that this was a journalist, doing his job. And for that, it seems, he was attacked.

 

The video of the incident is tough to watch. To be honest, it looks like something you would expect to see at a rally for United States President Donald Trump, where, egged on by the president himself, supporters have been known to threaten journalists who are just doing their job.

 

Freedom of the press seems seriously under attack in the United States, thanks to the president and his supporters. His repeated characterization of honest reporting as "fake news" and the attacks and threats to journalists puts freedom of the press at risk.

 

Now, that threat seems to be coming north, with the attack last weekend and the recent fake news accusation of Lisa MacLeod, Ontario's minister of children, community, and social services, though she later apologized.

 

No one who calls themselves a progressive should find themselves on the same side of an argument as Trump, who has repeatedly called the media the "enemy of the people."

 

Trump and his supporters attack the media because they don't want the truth to get out. Progressives, however, should want the truth to get out. There are just too many injustices in our society that need to be exposed – and that can only happen with a free press that is able to do its job free of intimidation.

 

It is worth remembering, too, that women in journalism face regular abuse on the job – including physical and sexual abuse live on camera and sexist attacks and threats on social media.

 

Indeed, a freelance photographer at the rally took to Instagram afterward to describe how she was confronted by protesters calling "shame" and "fake news" as one tried to grab her camera.

 

"Media is not the enemy, we don't want to live in societies without free media," she wrote.

 

There is no excuse for any such behaviour. The fact is, progressives who attack the press are giving oxygen to the right-wingers who are doing the same thing. We all suffer as a result.

 

The police stood by and watched the attack on the Behal, worried that an immediate arrest would provoke the crowd. Toronto police investigated, and a 29-year-old man has since been charged.

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