The storm over Fiona Bruce’s comments shows why education is key

I could see right away that Bruce wasn’t, in fact, defending Johnson, he was simply doing his job as a presenter (Image: BBC)

This week, Question Time presenter Fiona Bruce resigned as an ambassador for the domestic violence charity Refuge after a controversial clip taken from an argument on the show went viral and caused outrage.

In the video, panelist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown spoke about Boris Johnson and his father, Stanley, whom she labeled as a wife beater.

Fiona Bruce gave context to Alibhai-Brown’s claims, which originated from a biography of her son, the former prime minister.

However, the manner in which she did so caused understandable discomfort to viewers, particularly those who are victims and survivors of domestic violence, leading to her decision to withdraw from her role on Refuge.

It was a shame, not just because Bruce has been a fantastic advocate for women over the years, but mainly because the upset, trauma, and heartbreak caused by her comment could have been avoided if the general public had been better informed about the way the media. legal systems work.

Bruce said he didn’t question what Yasmine was saying, then added: “Just so everyone knows what this is referring to, Stanley Johnson’s wife spoke to journalist Tom Bower and said that Stanley Johnson had broken his nose and ended up in the hospital as a result. Stanley Johnson has not publicly commented on that. Friends of his have said “it happened, it was a one-off.”

It was the ‘single’ comment that became a particular point of discussion.

As many people have pointed out, domestic violence is never unique. It is a pattern of physical, emotional, or psychological abuse that leaves victims vulnerable and traumatized.

While a specific assault may have occurred on one occasion, it is often accompanied by other forms of violence or abuse used to intimidate or coerce the victims.

I don’t doubt Fiona Bruce knows that. She has worked with a women’s shelter charity for 25 years, which is why people were outraged to hear her apparently defend Stanley Johnson’s alleged actions.

But as a live TV broadcaster, when I saw the clip, I could see right away that Bruce wasn’t defending Johnson, she was just doing her job as a presenter.

The phrase ‘unique’ was not Bruce’s own opinion, but the words spoken by friends of Stanley Johnson who were asked about the alleged assault at the time.

Hosting current affairs is a high-pressure job that requires legal checks and balances to prevent the show from being sued.

Unless someone has been convicted of a crime within the legal system, talking about specific cases of alleged domestic violence in the media is a legal minefield, as is the case with most criminal charges.

As an advocate for domestic violence survivors, it took me a while to understand when I started working on livestreams and even while writing these weekly op-eds.

That is why I believe it is vital that the general public better understand how legal language and the right of reply work in news and current affairs, both in print and on television.

When I was sexually assaulted years ago, media reports referred to me as an ‘alleged victim’ who had ‘accused’ a man of assault.

With my limited understanding of media law at the time, I felt like the journalist writing about it didn’t believe me. In my opinion, I was not an ‘alleged’ victim, I was a victim, for me it was not just an ‘allegation’, it was a fact.

I felt as if what had happened to me had been trivialized, diminished, reduced to my accusatory words instead of his very real actions.

But when it was explained to me that the media has to use words like alleged and accusation for legal reasons unless a conviction has actually been obtained, I understood that these reports were not disputing what had happened to me, they just had a requirement to maintain a neutral stance.

In the eyes of the law, people are presumed innocent until proven guilty, even though in my eyes I knew the truth.

The man who assaulted me pleaded guilty, was convicted, and soon the reports on the matter labeled me simply as a victim. They were no longer required to remain neutral.

When someone is domestically or sexually assaulted, there are huge emotional barriers that can prevent a person from coming forward, especially when it is your word against theirs.

You worry about what people will think, if they will believe you, or if coming forward might cause more trauma.

If victims do not understand how media reporting frameworks work, then it is understandable that, like me, they feel that they are not being taken seriously.

How many times have we heard newscasters say, ‘Prince Andrew has denied ever knowing Virginia Guiffre’ (the woman who has accused him of sexual assault) while on screen is a photograph showing him with his arm around her waist.

It can often feel like gaslighting.

This is why it is important to note that Fiona Bruce, in her role as the host of Question Time and therefore the only person who can mediate the discussion, gave context to Alibhai-Brown’s (again that word) accusation that Stanley Johnson was a ‘wife-mixer’.

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Whether there were voices from the gallery in her earpiece telling her to do it, or whether, as an experienced broadcaster, she already knew what she would have to say, we can only speculate.

The phrase ‘unique’ was not Bruce’s own opinion, but the words spoken by friends of Stanley Johnson who were asked about the alleged assault at the time.

It was certainly clumsy and I completely understand why many viewers thought he was trivializing a felony assault charge.

The way she said it could be construed as frivolous, but as an announcer, my interpretation was that she was simply reciting the disclaimer so they could focus on the debate. It’s important that people understand that this was not a defense of Johnson, but rather an explanation of the circumstances surrounding the specific ‘wife-beating’ allegations.

When she stepped down from her role as an ambassador for Refuge, Bruce acknowledged that she had been “faced with a storm on social media, much of which misinterpreted what I said and took the form of personal abuse directed at me.”

Bruce accepted the fact that what he was asked to say on air had caused distress and that “the only people that matter in all of this are the survivors, they’re my priority.”

If people had a better understanding of because she was obligated to say so, so perhaps the outrage would be more directed at the man in question, rather than the woman presenting Question Time.

It’s sad that Bruce felt the need to step away from her role, even though Refuge stuck with her. Refuge has lost a powerful and prominent advocate, although I have no doubt that she will continue to support her work from the sidelines.

With Stanley Johnson recently reported to have been nominated for the honors list by his own son, it appears that Fiona Bruce has faced more social consequences as a result of doing her job as a responsible broadcaster than Johnson has for the allegations against her.

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