News

Female Indigenous Journalists Face Racism, Harassment in Newsrooms: Report

Fifteen journalists spoke about their experiences in Canadian newsrooms, including hearing colleagues refer to Indigenous peoples as "alcoholics" and getting no mental health support when covering Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
Manisha Krishnan
Toronto, CA
December 4, 2020, 2:55pm
Karyn Pugliese Canadian Commission for UNESCO, World Press Freedom Canada, and Journalists for Human Rights.
Journalist Karyn Pugliese interviewed 15 female Indigenous journalists about their experiences with racism in Canadian newsrooms. Photo by Jin Sun

Female Indigenous journalists face harassment, violence, sexism, and racism on the job, while often being re-traumatized due to the nature of the stories they’re reporting on, according to a new paper published by the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, World Press Freedom Canada, and Journalists for Human Rights. 

In a report called “Half the Story is Never Enough: Threats Facing Women Journalists”, Algonquin and Pikwàkanagàn journalist Karyn Pugliese outlines her findings based on interviews with 15 female Indigenous journalists who worked at outlets like the Aboriginal People’s Television Network (APTN) and the CBC. 

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The women who spoke to Pugliese, who is outgoing president of the Canadian Association of Journalists and former executive director of news and current affairs at APTN, described racism both in and out of the newsroom. 

Gitxaala journalist Leena Minifie said in the report she wasn’t taken seriously by human resources when she heard colleagues at the CBC make comments about Indigneous peoples “being alcoholics, drunks, or drug addicts” more than a decade ago. Anishinabe and Mohawk journalist Kim Wheeler told Pugliese she had a similar experience at the CBC in 2017, flagging to managers a list of racist statements made by staff members to their Indigenous colleagues. 

“There was no follow up with the managers…HR didn’t follow up with me. They walked out of the room and kind of went OK we had our meeting on racism, like, we’re good here,’” Wheeler said. 

Canadian Media Guild representative Terry Monture told Pugliese white journalists at CBC have told female Indigenous journalists they were only hired, or only win awards, because of their identities. Monture, a Mohawk from Six Nations, said three journalists at CBC have been disciplined for violating the broadcaster’s journalistic standards and practices by weighing in on racism on social media. 

Pugliese told VICE World News part of the reason there are so many stories from the CBC is “most other newsrooms don’t have Indigenous people.” 

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In a statement, CBC spokesman Chuck Thompson, said the broadcaster’s HR department has no record of Minifie or Wheeler’s concerns.

“That said, there has been a significant cultural shift within CBC and what may have happened years ago would not be tolerated today,” he said. (Pugliese noted the incident described by Wheeler was fairly recent.) 

Thompson also said that “while a few journalists were spoken to this year regarding statements made on social media pertaining  to racism, none were disciplined.” 

“There was one instance in which a white journalist made a comment in relation to an award received by an Indigenous journalist and that was dealt with swiftly and appropriately,” he said. 

The report also detailed allegations of racism directed at women Indigenous journalists while out in the field, as well as violence from Indigenous political leaders. 

Anishinaabe journalist Beverly Andrews told Pugliese she’s been called a “dirty squaw,” while covering various events. 

APTN reporter Melissa Ridgen, a Red River Metis, told Pugliese while she was reporting on housing in 2013, her car was run off the road by the son of a chief who had a gun and “was demanding the camera.” Larissa Burnouf, another APTN reporter and member of the Canoe Lake Cree Nation, said she received death threats when she was reporting on a story about housing about a decade ago. 

Cheryl McKenzie, APTN’s executive director of news and current affairs, said harassment towards APTN reporters is not tolerated and could result in legal action.

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Three of the women who spoke to Pugliese also described instances of sexual harassment, including being showed dick pics by male coworkers, that were met with indifference or victim blaming by newsroom leaders.

The report said female Indigenous journalists are often dealing with family obligations that compound their stress, and aren’t necessarily understood by their employers. 

“Canada’s history of residential schools and the “Sixties Scoop” mean Indigenous families don’t trust outsiders with their children,” Pugliese wrote, noting that many of the women she interviewed were single mothers when they started working. 

She said newsrooms should also consider the trauma female Indigenous journalists face when covering issues like the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls National Inquiry. 

According to the report, Minifie said covering serial killer Robert Pickton's trial took a toll on her, but her bosses at APTN didn’t offer her support when she requested it, telling her “getting used to hearing painful things was part of the job.” 

Mackenzie said APTN has an extensive health plan and “is committed to providing a safe, healthy and supportive working environment for its employees.”

“The stories of harassment, violence, and the intersection of racism and sexism in this report reflect my own experiences in the industry,” Pugliese wrote. “Like the other women in this report, I have pushed for change in the industry throughout my career and have achieved regrettably few results.” 

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Pugliese told VICE World News it was particularly hard to hear the similarities between the experiences of young women entering the industry now and her own from decades ago. 

“If over the 20 years between (Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples) and the (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada), the industry had just listened and been equitable and let us work to our abilities and our talents, what could we not have changed?” she said. 

She called for newsrooms to hire more Indigenous journalists, promote female Indigenous journalists into leadership roles, and accommodate the psychological impact of the job on these employees. 

She also said the UN should pressure Canada to pass laws preventing police from interfering with journalists covering Indigenous land actions; five journalists were detained at land action sites this year (including a reporter for VICE), Pugliese noted, though not all were Indigenous. 

Pugliese said Canada should also reaffirm its commitment to Article 16:1 and 2 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which asserts the right of Indigenous peoples to produce media. 

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