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The St Mike’s Scandal: Is the Media Sometimes the Problem?

News recently broke in Toronto of a horrible sexual abuse and hazing scandal in the St Michael’s College School, a prestigious private Catholic high school for boys known for their rigorous sports programmes and excellent academics. Reports indicated that several videos were recorded and posted on social media of alleged hazing incidents at the school, including one in which a student is reportedly held down and assaulted with a broomstick and another in which a student is reportedly splashed with water while seated in a sink. Other reports indicate another incident in which a belt is involved. Needless to say, these incidents are all disturbing and I believe those responsible should be punished to the extent that the law allows.

The media played a large role in the development of this story. It’s how police were notified of the existence of the videos after alleged inaction on the part of former Principal Greg Reeves. The media also first informed Torontonians about the horrible alleged incidents that took place inside the four walls of the school. This, however, is the extent to which I am willing to credit the media. After these allegations came to light, the media descended upon the school.

From the multiple videos released on the internet, reporters seemed constantly to be asking parents, students and employees of the school questions when they arrived in the morning and when they left in the evening. This constant questioning can almost be likened to harassment or invasion of privacy, as parents, students and employees had at least seven to ten reporters inundating them with questions, not to mention the multiple cameramen present airing live footage at every hour of the day. This media harassment has been constant and disturbing enough that parents do not feel safe to express their feelings with the reporters for fear of retribution. A reporter was ejected after being identified in a town hall arranged by the school that was reserved only for parents; according to some parents, the reporter’s presence in the hall shattered what little hope they had that the media was sensationalizing their coverage of the scandal.

In the days following the emergence of this scandal, many newspapers published articles speculating about the events that led up to the incident. In many, a particularly criticized aspect of the scandal is the fact that Reeves, upon learning about the existence of the videos, decided to comfort the victims and their families first rather than immediately call police. Numerous anonymous individuals on the Internet have called for Reeves to be “charged and jailed” for putting the mental and physical wellbeing of the victims and their families before the initiation of what amounts to be a brutal process of an investigation and criminal prosecution. The media has also criticized the parents who, in videos uploaded online, can be seen ignoring the privacy-invading questions of the reporters. The way the videos have been edited portray the parents as uncaring individuals with a support for the school that has translated into denial of the incidents. Reporters have even gone so far as to solicit copies of the videos, which have been deemed as child pornography by police, from students for large amounts of money without so much as a single consideration for the mental state of students.

Even once the simmering anger towards the media boiled over into rebellion, with some parents blaming the media for worsening the crisis in several interviews, pushy reporters were even able to turn that clear message from St Mike’s parents to back off into an article which fanned the flames of this scandal. Columnist Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star claimed parents believed that the perpetrators of these crimes were “bursary boys” and that these parents were parents of “boys from privileged families.” She has attempted to turn the reluctance of the parents to speak to the media into a class conflict while, in turn, portraying these hurting parents as rich snobs who could care less about students from more modest families. This is just one of the many articles recently published in local newspapers that seek to portray the student body and their parents as irresponsible, complicit with these crimes, and it seems to be working. Reactions from online readers has been almost universally of disgust and accusations of denials, with some extremely graphic comments condemning parents and administrators.

One must keep in mind what the scandal has done to the students, most of whom had absolutely no part in these incidents, their parents and their teachers. There have been bomb threats against the school, students have been called “rapists” on public transit and have even been instructed by the administration not to wear their school blazers for fear of physical assaults that may occur outside the school premises. Parents are worried about the safety of their children and their mental wellbeing. Many teachers may also be blaming themselves for having not found out about the incidents. To have the media berate them and fearmonger about the school whilst dealing with these other concerns is even more added pressure and definitively too much for parents and students to deal with.

It is due time that the media back off from their harassment of parents and students. They need to let the students and their parents have their space so that they can deal with these harrowing allegations appropriately. The people that need to be held accountable for these incidents are not the worried parents or traumatised students, but rather police and school administrators. While the school’s response to the crisis may not have been ideal, the media needs to stop invading the privacies of students and parents. Articles should no longer feed the fire of the crisis while providing nothing of substance for the investigation and inquiry.

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