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Public Editor: Readers criticize gender balance in coverage of doctor’s killing

Globe and Mail Public Editor Sylvia Stead.

The Globe and Mail

I've heard criticism this week from doctors and other readers upset with our coverage of the death of Dr. Elana Fric Shamji, a highly regarded family physician and associate professor at the University of Toronto. Dr. Fric Shamji was found dead late last week, and her husband has been charged with her murder.

They say the coverage has focused too much on him and not enough on her. "The media coverage around this murder has been typical of media coverage of male violence against women … In one article, all of his achievements and credentials are listed, but none of hers. All too often, victims are reduced to just 'victims' … This is another example of misogyny in media and it needs to stop," said one.

"The title of the article includes that the accused is a doctor, and not that the amazing, accomplished woman who lost her life was a doctor? How about 'Accomplished Toronto physician killed – husband charged with murder'? Please don't allow the accused's pedigree to come into play … His job doesn't matter. Elana's accomplishments do," said another. A third said "humanizing the (overwhelmingly male) predators and murderers of women while presenting their victims as victims only with their professional or educational achievements ignored contributes to the epidemic of violence against women. … The fact that (Dr. Shamji) was a surgeon should be a footnote in these stories, if mentioned at all."

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The stories that I can find published by The Globe and Mail refer to the background of both.

The first paragraph of this story says this: The director of the Ontario Medical Association is remembering a doctor who police allege was killed by her neurosurgeon husband as a talented family physician. It is followed by six paragraphs about Dr. Fric Shamji before returning to Mohammed Shamji's background.

I agree with the readers that the headline puts the focus on the wrong person: "Toronto doctor charged with first-degree murder in woman's death."

The headline on this second story is much better: Toronto doctor's killing shocks medical community. This article, like the previous one, mentions their backgrounds at the start of the story, but focuses first on Dr. Fric Shamji before turning to her husband. The criminal justice system places the emphasis on the accused, not the victim, so that is all the more reason for journalists to tell the story of the victims. As this story goes through the courts, it will be vital to remember Dr. Fric Shamji while also covering the news of the trial. But you cannot ignore the background of the accused as well, because it is important to our understanding of what happened and why and how violence against women can happen to anyone.

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