Montreal Gazette apologizes after reporter sends offensive tweets while covering protest

The Gazette, an English-language daily in Montreal, issued an apology online and in print after one of its reporters attracted criticism for her tweets while covering a student demonstration.

Anne Sutherland, a longtime reporter for The Gazette, was assigned to cover a protest organized by students who object to a Quebec government plan to raise tuition fees. The protest, held Thursday evening, was a little bit different than the usual fare — it was billed as a “nearly naked” protest. Participants wore little clothing, and that attracted commentary from Sutherland.

Sutherland’s tweeting soon began attracting attention, thanks to offerings like this:

Background: A number of Quebec university and college students have been boycotting classes and organizing regular protests for close to three months over proposed tuition hikes. An agreement in principle reached over the weekend may have put an end to the boycott.

Sutherland offered plenty more tweets like the above, as a Storify from the Quebec Press Council attests (see below).

Twitter users objected to Sutherland’s comments. OpenFile Montreal, which wrote about Sutherland’s tweets, also did a round up of reaction from its readers to the story. (Disclosure, I was part of the team that launched OpenFile and I’m still an adviser to the company.)

By late afternoon Friday, The Gazette issued an online apology, which it also tweeted. (Along with the apology, the paper tweeted a link to its social media policy.)

The apology outlined how Sutherland had violated the paper’s policy:

The Gazette apologizes for inappropriate comments posted on Twitter Thursday night by one of its reporters. The Gazette’s social media policy clearly states that all journalists should conduct themselves in a manner that does not compromise themselves, their colleagues or the newspaper.

The Gazette takes all breaches of ethics very seriously.

By the time the apology went out, Sutherland had already deleted her Twitter account.

I asked Gazette publisher and editor Alan Allnutt to confirm information I received that Sutherland had been suspended for three days.

“The specifics of disciplinary measures taken within The Gazette are considered confidential,” he replied by email.

Two sources have independently confirmed the suspension.

A final note: on Friday evening, after the apology had been issued, the paper’s arts editor tweeted a compliment to the Gazette reporter delivering student protest coverage that evening:

The Press Council Storify:

We have made it easy to comment on posts, however we require civility and encourage full names to that end (first initial, last name is OK). Please read our guidelines here before commenting.

  • Anonymous

    The only way that could be justified is journalist is both required to tweet and has that ability, either through phone or cell phone coverage covered by the newspaper. Otherwise, they’re reprimanding someone for speaking their opinion. I would assume if it’s covered in the policy that they get phones or plans, in the same way that you can only use a company computer in certain ways. But if that’s not the case–if it’s her phone, her plan and her personal twitter account, I would call bollocks on that.  I do respect that people called her out. That to me is enough punishment. It’s funny because as a journo, I tweet rarely and with that kind of knowledge in mind–that people will read my account as if I’m a journalist and not just some random dude.

  • Anonymous

    I find it interesting that most of the negative comments towards her tweets were from students. She did not post under “The Gazette”… she posted HER personal comments. I really don’t see anything wrong with that. Hey, the students wanted attention… they got it… negative or not! 

  • F. Douglas

    Wow. The paper apologizes when its reporter told the truth.

  • F. Douglas

    Wow. The paper apologizes when its reporter told the truth.