On April 9th, the Toronto Star published the column “Sexual assault case involving four female suspects a bizarre anomaly” by Rosie DiManno. It also included “Enquiring minds are eager to know what the heck befell a young man who was allegedly sexually assaulted by a group of women in downtown Toronto” at the beginning of the column.
Many Toronto Star readers were upset with the publishing of this callous, insensitive and victim-blaming column, and had contacted Kathy English, the Public Editor of the Toronto Star for an explanation. I also contacted her and she provided her (form letter) reply via email, and has given her permission for my publication of the explanation below. I have pasted her email without any further comment of my own:
Here is the response I sent out to readers who complained about DiManno’s column. I am not writing a column this week as I missed today’s deadline for Saturday publication but I expect I will explore issues related to opinion columns in a future column.
I am writing in response to your concern about Rosie DiManno’s April 9 column on the alleged sexual assault on a young man by four women.
DiManno is an opinion columnist for the Toronto Star. Her column falls within her role as a popular columnist who expresses strong, often controversial, opinions that sometimes offend. Columnists at the Star are given wide latitude to express their opinions. But columnists always speak for themselves, not for the Toronto Star. Only editorials, which are published on the editorial page, express the views of the Star as an organization.
The Star believes in the widest possible expression of free speech, in line with Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Star’s policy manual states that: “Columnists and Op-Ed writers have wide latitude to express their own views in the Star, including views directly contrary to the Star’s editorial views, as long as they fall within the boundaries of good taste and the laws of libel.”
As public editor of the Star, it is outside the scope of my role to weigh in on whether the views of any opinion columnist are “fair” “appropriate” or “in good taste” While I as an individual, and the Star as institution, do not agree with every opinion expressed by columnists, in the Star and sometimes vehemently disagree with some columnist’s views on some subjects, I will always defend any opinion columnist’s freedom to express views some readers might find offensive
or even repugnant.
Taste is always a subjective matter and a judgment call for newsroom editors seeking to balance questions of sensitivity of subject matter with the imperative for free expression for opinion writers and the desire not to demand conformity from columnists. Certainly the best columnists often do enrage and offend. In doing so they can provoke public discussion of important issues – as this column certainly has. On that regard, I expect the Star will publish a selection of the opinions of readers who disagree with DiManno’s opinion and the manner in which she expressed her views.
I have now had opportunity to discuss your concerns with senior newsroom editors. They tell me they gave careful consideration to this column prior to its publication and believe that the column is fairly done and falls within the bounds of fair comment and the Star’s policy’s for columnists.
While I personally appreciate and understand your points about sexual assault and gender, I agree the column is in line with the Star’s policies and is indeed fair comment.
Kathy English/Public Editor