Small town torn apart by controversial radio report
A story about media ethics and small town rumours is circulating after a Nova Scotia radio station aired a detailed report of a sexual assault trial.
The victim says the report re-victimized her and she believes the station – 91.9 Parrsboro Community Radio – is using its power to defend itself.
Ross Robinson is the man convicted of sexually assaulting her, and he also happens to be the station's general manager. But the reporter who aired the details of the trial says he was just trying to set the facts straight.
Bruce Wark worked as a national reporter in several Canadian cities for many years and even taught journalism at the University of King's College for 15 years.
Then he retired, moved to the coastal town of Parrsboro on the shores of the Minas Basin, and thought it would be fun to volunteer at the town's local radio station.
But the former journalism ethics professor hasn't been having much fun lately.
His detailed report on the trial caused an uproar on the quiet streets of Parrsboro, partly because of the position Robinson holds at the station, and partly because the victim feels the station used its airwaves to defend him.
"I think it was terrible," says area resident Elaine Fancey. "It shouldn't have happened."
When the story aired at the local grocery store, the manager was inundated with complaints from angry shoppers, asking that the radio be turned off.
"I've never heard another trial over that radio station," says the victim. "They did it to make Ross Robinson look good."
A publication ban protects the victim's identity, but the station went to court asking that a highly unusual ban on the name of the accused be lifted.
"I really firmly believe that it should have been told, and that it was the proper thing to do, that we had an obligation to do it," says Wark of the decision to report the details of the trial.
However, the victim says the five-minute report dredged up details of her past, such as her drug use and solicitation charges, and only included portions of testimony.
Wark says he brought up details of her past because they were covered during the trial, but the victim says she was never called for comment on any of it.
"I just lost myself. I lost my kids. But he didn't even put that in there, and that was part of the trial," she says. "He didn't explain why I was a drug user and why I got charged for solicitation."
Sexual assault can be defined as anything from unwanted touching to violent rape. In this case, the court heard Robinson touched the woman's back under her shirt and made several comments that were said to be sexual in nature.
CTV News attempted to contact Robinson for comment, but calls were not returned.
Robinson was convicted of sexual assault but is appealing the conviction.
A spokesperson for the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission says the broadcast regulator has received complaints about the radio station, but Wark says the storm of controversy surrounding the report would never have happened in a larger urban centre.
"Here people do know each other and it becomes harder for them to distance themselves from it," he says. "It becomes much closer, much more personal."
With files from CTV Atlantic's Kayla Hounsell