This week, I would like to tackle a large and sensitive topic: the ongoing reports and investigation surrounding CBC host Jian Ghomeshi.
For those who haven’t been following this story, Jian Ghomeshi, the popular host of ‘Q’ on CBC Radio, took a leave of absence on October 24, which left the news world buzzing with the question ‘Why?’. Two days later, the CBC formally announced that Ghomeshi had been fired due to questionable conduct.
To counter his termination, Ghomeshi has launched a $55 million lawsuit against CBC, saying that he was wrongfully fired due to a ‘smear campaign’ by an ex-girlfriend.
This brings us up to date, with the court of public opinion strongly influenced by the media in this case.
The Toronto Police, Carleton University and the CBC have each announced investigations.
First let me state that I will not be forming an opinion on the credulity of the women who have come forward to speak against out against the crimes which Ghomeshi may or may not have committed, for one simple reason. That reason is, I wasn’t there.
The first thing you learn in journalism school is to report only first hand and verified facts, and avoid misleading ‘colour’ - this is what we refer to as ethical journalism.
For example, running an anonymously sourced post about ‘Big Ears Teddy’, purely for the shock value might be considered a misstep.
It is the role of the media to report facts as they happen, and to always attribute sources. To date, only one woman, actress Lucy DeCoutere has put her name to the accusations - sparking the investigation. Frankly, I find The Toronto Star reckless in running the reports of these other women anonymously. If a source lacks the faith to put their name to a quote, how much faith can you have in the quote?
On the forefront of our criminal justice system is the presumption of innocence. While Ghomeshi remains technically innocent until the court renders a guilty verdict, this won’t stop major media sources from jumping on the bandwagon and the slippery slope of incredulity and tabloid journalism.
Many have questioned the CBC’s decision to terminate Ghomeshi’s contract, but I feel that CBC is fully within their right and responsibility to conduct an investigation, and suspend an employee, for the safety of others.
There is something to be mindful of here, a point to remember and a grain of salt to take with any news stories you read - to reach a conviction, police must gather proper evidence, not just reports, this leaves two ideas riding on the forefront.
First, regardless of celebrity status or talent, we are all equal in the eyes of the law, and crimes cannot be given a free pass, no matter how well-liked the criminal is.
Second, while people rely on information from the media on a daily basis, the justice system does not. Even the most airtight investigative journalism pieces cannot be admitted into a courtroom.
When an investigation has numerous reports and complainants, they are often grouped together and looked at as a whole - rather than several individual cases. This is an important part of justice, and tells us that the whole story is greater than its individual parts.
If we’re not careful, this policy can become a double-edged blade, and can turn into a medieval witch-hunt if evidence is not carefully checked - suddenly people forget to form their own opinions, and go only by what they read.
Ghomeshi may be a terrifying sadist who needs to be locked up, and those women may be bravely telling the truth. But, as far as we know, he could just as easily be suffering under a smear campaign having committed no crime but living alternatively and jilting an ex-girlfriend.
The fact is, only a handful of people know the truth - and you can’t hang someone on speculation. Not in the Canada I know and love, with due process and justice for all parties.
As we consider the snowball effect, let’s hope that big media jumps out of the way before it’s overtaken.