In the Blog

Pickton Verdict and Feminist Journalism?

December 10th, 2007     by Nicole Cohen     Comments

Robert Pickton was found guilty on six counts of second-degree murder, for the deaths of Sereena Abotsway, Andrea Joesbury, Mona Wilson, Georgina Papin, Brenda Wolfe and Marnie Frey, all of whom had disappeared from Vancouver’s downtown eastside between 1997 and 2001. He will be back in court to face 20 more first-degree murder charges.

The missing women story — and the fact that it took police so many years to act on the disappearance of dozens and dozens of women - has been really horrific. I haven’t followed the trial closely, but since the verdict I’ve been trying to find some insightful feminist analysis (anyone have any good tips of where to look?).

What I did find was an interesting piece by Jessalynn Keller, who interviewed three women journalists covering the trial to find out why mainstream coverage was unable to reveal the major issues that swirled around this case: ongoing and systemic violence against women, racism, and poverty. “Why is it,” she asks, that “media coverage of the case still so reflective of dominant cultural stereotypes of women, violence, sex and race?”

She makes a very good and important argument:

“The issues seem to cloud when [the women journalists] try to articulate these values through a mainstream media lens. They see their power residing primarily in practical journalistic decision-making such as language choices. The result is feminism light - news content without the conceptual tools or framework to help readers see and understand the structural challenges the Missing Women faced, the role of feminism historically and the continued struggle of many women in Vancouver today.”

The major problem, it seems, is that feminist politics don’t jive with the (somewhat problematic) principles journalists are supposed to uphold: objectivity, accuracy, facts. It’s interesting to see how journalists working for large newspapers and wire services try to negotiate the limitations placed on them, particularly when it comes to language choices.

There are also some moments that drive home the structural problems we face, particularly the way in which sex work is regarded in the mainstream media. Because the women missing from downtown eastside are poor, racialized, sex workers or drug users, they were depicted in a much different way than, say, Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy, who were murdered by Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka. The names of the women Pickton murdered are not household names, and I wonder if they will ever be.

Tags: media savvy, news flash

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