Star’s public editor on controversial sex assault column

Earlier this week, Star columnist Rosie DiManno wrote a piece about an alleged sexual assault of a man by four women, and some people got upset. Several wrote to the Star’s public editor Kathy English, or at least enough of them to compel her to draw up a letter she sent to each of them to address their concerns in more than 140 characters (the paper plans to run some letters on the weekend, too, I’m told).

Here it is.

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 policies 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.

Best Regards,

Kathy English