6. Competing Media

When faced with a publication ban, most reporters choose to toe the line. A decision to break a ban must usually be made quickly, and media organizations tend to err on the side of caution. In the case of Rehtaeh Parsons, media outlets were forced to make this decision on Sept. 22, 2014, after one of the accused pleaded guilty to distributing child pornography.

Rehtaeh’s father, Glen Canning, stood on the steps of the court building, ready to speak with the media. He was wearing a T-shirt with his daughter’s name on it. Canning’s point of view was integral to the story, but his name and face could be used to identify his daughter — something forbidden under the publication ban. Media participated in the scrum, conducted their interviews and went back to their respective newsrooms to decide what to do with the footage. [1]

CTV Atlantic used the footage, but blurred Canning’s face. They did not reveal the family’s name or use any identifying features. The reporters also detailed the restrictions of the publication ban. [2]

Other media decided that it was more important to give the victim’s parents a voice than to completely uphold the ban. CBC Nova Scotia decided to use the full video footage, including showing Canning’s face. [3] Reporter Blair Rhodes said executive editors at CBC knew there was going to be a dilemma, because the parents had been so vocal about their displeasure regarding the publication ban. [4]

“We were torn,” Rhodes said in an interview. “What should we do? We came up with a nuanced response, which other media did as well, and that was, well, we are going to give the parents a voice, but we are going to be a bit disingenuous.”

Rhodes made the decision to shoot Canning from the chin up so that his T-shirt with Rehateh’s name could not be seen. Under the video, the CBC chose to identify him as “the victim’s father.”

“If you want to be stringent about enforcing the publication ban, we breached it,” Rhodes said, pointing out that to show Canning’s face was, strictly speaking, to provide identifying information about the victim (despite the difference in last names). “But we didn’t flout it in a very provocative way. We didn’t name them, we didn’t name her. We just let the parents speak for themselves.”

There was one freelance journalist who openly defied the publication ban, blatantly printing the victim’s name along with her parents’ names on his blog. [5] “This was a ban screaming to be violated,” the journalist, Ryan Van Horne, said.

Van Horne has written for a number of Canadian publications, including The Canadian Press, Sun Media and the Cape Breton Post. Despite his efforts, he couldn’t get any of those publications to publish an article that violated the ban—so he decided to write a piece on his own site. [6]

“As a journalist, I feel it’s important to connect that guilty plea back to the events of November 2011 and that cascading effect of failures that led to [Rehtaeh] taking her life in April 2013,” Van Horne said over the phone. “If you don’t do that, as a journalist, you are failing the people you are supposed to be serving.”

The Chronicle Herald, on the other hand, chose to strictly uphold the ban. They did not use Rehtaeh’s name, or her father’s. Video content was not included. They did explain, in great detail, the parameters of the publication ban. [7]

Next: The Chronicle Herald Faces a New Choice

1. Blair Rhodes (journalist with CBC Nova Scotia) interview with author, November 2014.
2. The Canadian Press, “Man charged in high-profile N.S. child porn case pleads guilty,” CTV (Atlantic), Sept. 22, 2014. 
3. Blair Rhodes, “Accused in high-profile child porn case pleads guilty,” CBC (Nova Scotia), Sept. 22, 2014.  
4. Blair Rhodes, Interview, Nov. 2014.
5. Ryan Van Horne, “Guilty plea in Rehtaeh Parsons Case,” Personal Blog, Sept. 22, 2014. 
6. Ryan Van Horne (freelance journalist and blogger) interview with author, November 2014.
7. Steve Bruce, “Young man enters guilty plea in high-profile Nova Scotia child porn case,” The Chronicle Herald. Sept. 22, 2014.