After protests erupted due to the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, journalists have again come under attack for trying to document what was going on. In the two weeks that followed, the US Press Freedom Tracker recorded 400 incidents of attacks against journalists. In a normal year, they field 150 at most.
More troubling are targeted attacks on black journalists. During the Minneapolis protests, black CNN reporter Omar Jimenez and his crew were arrested live on air, after he clearly presented his press pass and complied with police requests to move from the area. A white reporter covering the same protest was allowed to move back from the police line and was not arrested despite being in the same situation as Jimenez.
The American National Association of Black Journalists have reported a rise in attacks on black journalists. A spokesperson said that black journalists are a “double target” for threats and harassment.
In Canada, police have arrested journalists at First Nations protest camps and at similar protests for justice for George Floyd, white, black and indigenous reporters included. The Canadian Association of Black Journalists (CABJ) and the Canadian Journalists of Colour (CJOC) have raised concerns about systemic racism, especially in Canadian media, citing too few black journalists in Canadian newsrooms, and too few black voices reporting on the endemic racism in Canada.
This is further complicated by statements from Canadian politicians saying there is no racism in Canada. Online stories on systemic racism are often shouted down in the comments section, along with other racist comments.
Attacks on journalists in a free society is alarming enough, but our society is also rife with systemic racism, with black and indigenous reporters reporting racism and micro-aggressions towards them from the public and other journalists.
The CABJ and CJOC have released Seven Calls to Action asking for increased diversity in newsrooms, promotion and retention of journalists of colour, scholarship programs for journalists of colour, and active reports on the diversity of newsrooms country wide. The CABJ have applauded statements condemning attacks on black journalists and journalists of colour, but say statements don't go far enough, and that racism must be faced at a structural level, starting at the very top, such as ownership of media outlets and editorial boards.
Denying that racism exists in Canada will do nothing to help lessen it in our country. Instead, confrontation of our own racist predilections, conscious or not, and listening to people of colour when they are being attacked is just one thing we can do to help our country become a better place for everyone.
Steve Marlow is the program co-ordinator at CFBX, an independent radio station in Kamloops. Tune in at 92.5 FM on the dial or go online to thex.ca.