8. Decision Point: To Air or Not to Air the Footage?

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When Kaufman, Malarek and the crew returned from Nova Scotia, they brought the footage to David Studer, then executive producer of the fifth estate. It was Studer’s decision whether to use the footage or not. The typical fifth episode takes months to research, film and edit. Every episode is reviewed multiple times by producers and lawyers. [1] Together, the team puzzled over how to proceed.

“As a human being, you find it difficult to see somebody that emotional and that panicked,” says Studer. “And we had discussions about it. The people who were reluctant to use it had two primary concerns. One, obviously, just sympathy for this person. The second was, is airing this going make us seem like bullies?” [2]

“I recall that there were people in the room who said that is so unkind to her to include that and we shouldn’t. I remember it being raised, ‘We’re going to look bad because we did that to her,’ and we’re including it as though it were some kind of trophy,” he remembers. [3]

There was no question that Sharon Stevens was a key figure in Donzel Young’s story. Yet the ambush had yielded no answers from her — so why include the footage? Moreover, the fifth estate had already found seven people to attest to Reid’s guilt, and by extension Donzel Young’s innocence. Why not simply say that Sharon Stevens declined to grant an interview?

Even without answers, Kaufman saw some value in the footage.

“Her demeanour on camera actually seemed to uphold the point we were making in the story — that she had actually given false testimony in the trial and she knew it,” says Kaufman. “That’s really one of the only explanations we had for why she ran away from the camera and fell apart when we confronted her.” [5]

Ultimately, it came down to whether including the footage could be considered responsible journalism. For Victor Malarek (who prefers the term “unscheduled interview” to “jump” or “ambush”), Sharon Stevens’ testimony “was a one-hundred-percent lie.” Why, he argued, “should [she] get off from being interviewed or being approached so that the Canadian public could see who it was or what it was that was largely responsible for putting [Young] in prison?” [4] For Malarek, using the footage was simply “responsible journalism”:

 

But the final call was David Studer’s. Did footage of the jump interview with Sharon Stevens serve the public interest, or did it unnecessarily exploit someone fearful and vulnerable?

Next: Epilogue


 

Works Cited

[1] David Studer, interview by Simon Bredin and Arielle Piat-Sauve, December 11, 2014. Unpublished.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Victor Malarek, interview by Simon Bredin, December 12, 2014. Unpublished.

[5] David Kaufman, interview by Simon Bredin and Sam Colbert, December 12 2014. Unpublished.

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