CBC announces leadership changes at The National following 'appropriation prize' controversy

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CBC announces leadership changes at The National following 'appropriation prize' controversy

CBC announces leadership changes at The National following 'appropriation prize' controversy

CBC News has shuffled the leadership of its flagship program following a controversy on social media this week involving numerous Canadian media figures, including the managing editor of The National.

Steve Ladurantaye will step away from the program's redevelopment, the public broadcaster announced Wednesday. Instead, Ladurantaye will be meeting with Indigenous groups and other diverse communities across Canada and then helping CBC News develop its storytelling strategies, CBC News editor in chief Jennifer McGuire wrote in a note.

"Redeveloping The National needs the full attention and focus of us all, and I believe that is not possible given the current circumstances," McGuire wrote.

The decision comes after several prominent Canadian news executives and columnists, including Ladurantaye, tweeted their support for a controversial editorial published in Write magazine in an issue featuring Indigenous authors.

In his original piece, editor Hal Niedzviecki suggested that writers should not use their work solely as a reflection of their own experiences and said "anyone, anywhere, should be encouraged to imagine other peoples, other cultures, other identities."

By doing so, he suggested it would expand the canon of Canadian literature, which he described as "exhaustingly white and middle class."  

"I stand by the ideas in the piece," Niedzviecki said in a recent interview with CBC's The Current. "Do I stand by the precise way I wrote those words? It's clear now that I could have written them in a different way that would not have offended the people I invited into the magazine."

Following the editorial's publication, several media executives, including Ladurantaye, joked on Twitter about fundraising for an "appropriation prize," a satirical notion included in the piece.

'I thought it was a joke'

Alicia Elliott, an Indigenous writer of the Tuscarora people, was one of the first to call out the magazine. She contributed to the same issue and her story, which discussed the harmful effects of cultural appropriation, was edited by Niedzviecki.

"At first I thought it was a joke," she told CBC News, referring to the editor's opinion piece. "I thought maybe it was going to be a satirical article."

As she read further, she found it "very, very frustrating."

Ladurantaye has since issued a lengthy apology to his colleagues at The National and on Twitter.

"I've had a lot of conversations about this in the last day, and I will have many more, as many as it takes for as long as it takes," he wrote on Saturday.

Cultural sensitivity training

He has also made arrangements to meet with First Nations groups and enrolled in cultural sensitivity training, CBC spokesperson Chuck Thompson said earlier this week.

When contacted for more information Wednesday, Thompson repeated McGuire's comments.

Leaders within the public broadcaster have met with staff throughout the week who have expressed concerns about CBC's commitment to inclusivity both as a workplace and a news provider, McGuire said in a note to staff Wednesday.

McGuire said the public broadcaster remains committed to diversity both in its hiring and in its breadth of coverage. She noted that CBC News has created an "emerging leaders program to help develop a more diverse leadership team" and is conducting training about unconscious bias across the country.

Read CBC News editor in chief Jennifer McGuire's note in its entirety: 

I have spent the last few days meeting with individuals and groups who have experienced personal hurt and community impact from an inappropriate, insensitive and frankly unacceptable tweet late last week by one of our journalistic leaders. 

Before sending a note, it was important for me to take the time to hear and understand first-hand the implications on our teams, particularly within our Indigenous and diverse staff. I want to thank those of you who spoke with me and so honestly shared your personal stories.

The broad theme of those stories was clear: this incident raised questions about CBC's commitment to being a more inclusive and representative workplace in staffing, in leadership, and in content.    

As you know, Steve Ladurantaye apologized for his action. He has made it his goal to better understand the appropriation issue from the perspective of Canada's Indigenous people. We will support Steve in these efforts and I am confident that the work and conversations we are engaged in will, in the long run, make Steve and all of us better journalists and better leaders.  

It's also clear to Steve and me that the work of redeveloping The National needs the full attention and focus of us all, and I believe that is not possible given the current circumstances. So effective immediately Steve will step away from his role as Managing Editor of The National. 

In addition to taking the time necessary to reach out to Indigenous communities and other communities as part of his learning process, Steve will work in our content experience area to help evolve our storytelling strategies. In the fall, we will meet with Steve to reassess his connection to The National going forward.

Finally, it's obvious that we have more work to do. We've already created the emerging leaders program to help develop a more diverse leadership team, and are in the midst of unconscious bias training with all of our program units. This training does not simply address hidden bias, but commits programs and platforms to concrete steps to diversify voices and story choices. 

But that is just a start. We are committed to continuing to work with our employee resource groups and others to develop further steps, and will announce these as they are finalized.

Meanwhile The National redevelopment continues at full speed. Jonathan Whitten, Michael Gruzuk, Caroline Harvey and myself, as well as the various working groups, will lead the work around re-imagining the program.   

I know there will be many different opinions about today's decision.  What has guided me is a determination to be thoughtful about our future, fair to our staff, and fully committed to the goals and values of CBC News.