One thing the pandemic unearthed is the amount of bullying and harassment that anyone in the media is subjected to.
Journalists, radio and TV hosts, camera operators – anyone who disagreed with restrictions, vaccinations, closures, and felt compelled to make their feelings known, had readily available targets. And as the attacks became more frequent and open, they were finally taken more seriously.
When I started work at CJBK, London, my biggest critic was a colleague who worked at a different time of the day. Once, as I was waiting for a reporter to confirm a story that our competitor had, this coworker called to tell me I wasn’t doing my job by not putting the story on the air. I explained that I wasn’t going to just start blathering about it without details or confirmation from OUR people. Finally, when his third call interrupted what was already a very busy morning, I let him have it. “Did someone die and make you my News Director? Because I’ve explained it to you and I’m waiting for the reporter to call me on THIS LINE!”
At that exact moment, our General Manager was walking down the hallway behind me. To his credit, he waited until my busy shift was over to talk to me about the incident. He was worried that I had been admonishing a listener. No, Sir. It was a jerk colleague who ought to have known better. The icing on that particular cake was that the story turned out to be bogus. The incident was not happening and didn’t happen. This is why professionals wait to confirm.
I walked away from my long radio career before the pandemic. I remember telling my cohost, Ken Eastwood, that I didn’t “have another election in me”. Donald Trump helped finish me off. That man’s actions were often newsworthy for their lack of precedent but the landslide of bullshit – threats, unwarranted criticism and name-calling – that followed any discussion about him on our show was draining. I had no more fight in me for starting my day with texts and emails to the station from friends of the former morning host telling me how much I sucked.
Once, I received a death threat that included specifics such as knowing I was the first one in the building in the wee hours. Finding out the back door security camera wasn’t hooked up to anything helped kill my spirit. All of this was only part of my reason for quitting radio, but it was an important part.
I read with vicarious excitement that broadcaster Jody Vance has launched a civil lawsuit against a man convicted of harassing her. Richard Sean Oliver’s campaign against Vance stretched from 2015 to 2021. When she’d block his email address he’d get another one and start over, using threats, sexist and racist language, and deluging her with vitriol several times a day. A vehement anti-vaxxer, Oliver called vaccines akin to murder. He photoshopped her picture into a scene of Auschwitz. He only stopped when he was arrested. Oliver pleaded guilty to a small part of his huge offensive and received a conditional discharge. Vance accurately characterized his sentence as more appropriate for shoplifting than for criminal harassment.
Vance, and another recipient of Oliver’s emails, are now suing Oliver for damages. They say his behavior made them fear for their safety, the safety of their families, and made Vance turn down work that would have put her out in public. I get that. When my death threat was “on”, I did the same thing. You don’t want to make yourself a bigger target for more abuse, or worse. You lose control of your life when you’re under threat like that. The only goal is to make it stop.
The one-sided war waged against Jody Vance was unusual for a few reasons. It was relentlessness; nothing stopped the guy until his arrest. And on the positive side, her corporate bosses backed her. But in broad strokes, it’s not unusual at all. Info from the Canadian Journalist Forum on Violence and Trauma, as reported by Burnaby Now, finds harassment spiked during the pandemic with those facing the public more likely to get harassed:
- 85 per cent of video journalists;
- 71 per cent of photographers;
- 67 per cent of hosts/presenters;
- 55 per cent of reporters; and,
- 53 per cent of camera operators.
All these people want to do is a good job. Pandemics are news. US Presidents make news. The news is there as information, and those reporting it aren’t promoting it. They’re delivering good and bad and stuff they agree with and stuff they don’t. That’s how the job works. I feel deeply for my media colleagues and what I know they’ve been enduring during the pandemic and its after-effects. Some of them can allow it to roll off them. I was always more porous to meanness and bullying.
I’m so grateful that Jody Vance is pursuing this case and saying, in part, that going on parole is not an appropriate response to her harasser’s behavior. We all have a right to feel safe and do our jobs without fear. So many of us are eager to see Jody succeed where a criminal court justice failed. The judge called Oliver a coward, but sentenced him like he was a friend. This time, with a mountain of evidence against him, I think true justice will be served.
*This post has been edited from its original version.