Journalists of colour react to CBC host resigning over lack of Indigenous, Black representation

·4 min read
Journalists of colour react to CBC host resigning over lack of Indigenous, Black representation

Canada's media institutions have been under the microscope in the past few weeks for their part in perpetuating systemic racism, and the CBC has been no exception.

Last week, after making on-air remarks about the under-representation of Indigenous and Black voices at the public broadcaster, Christine Genier, host of CBC's Yukon Morning radio show in Whitehorse, resigned.

Genier, a citizen of the Táän Kwách'än Council, told listeners that CBC's journalistic standards and practices (JSP) make it difficult for her to speak out as an Indigenous woman.

The CBC has long insisted that its journalists avoid expressing personal opinions on the stories they cover.

In a Facebook statement made shortly after her resignation, Genier said the CBC's JSP perpetuates systemic racism and "blocks our ability to bring the stories and language and culture to the programming."

"This is painful and makes the job difficult and it makes it ineffective," said Genier in her final broadcast June 8. "We get told that it takes time to move a ship ... but it is costing us bodies."

Genier's comments may have shocked some listeners, but her emotive words during her last host appearance resonated with many people of colour working in the Canadian media industry.

Steve Sxwithul'txw, producer of Tribal Police Files on Aboriginal Peoples Television Network and a former CBC journalist, said Genier's move was principally based on what was truly important to her — "her people, her language and her way of life."

Sxwithul'txw, a member of the Penelakut Tribe, said those critical Indigenous perspectives have been silenced for too long and he sees Genier's actions as a bold attempt to promote change within a media organization.

In a blog post published on the afternoon of June 8, CBC News editor-in-chief Brodie Fenlon said he's committed to reviewing the JSP "through the prism of inclusivity."

"Do our definitions of objectivity balance fairness and impartiality and our insistence that journalists not express personal opinions on the stories we cover work against our goals of inclusion and being part of the community and country we serve?" wrote Fenlon.

Michael Cooper
Michael Cooper

Anita Li, co-founder of the Canadian Journalists of Colour network, says she sees this as a possible sign there is "genuine change afoot," but she will believe it when she sees it.

"Institutions, whether they're media or government in Canada, have a long history of lip service," said Li on CBC's The Early Edition on Wednesday. "I need to see institutions walk the walk first."

Danni Olusanya, culture editor at The Ubyssey — the first Black woman to be in an editorial position at the University of British Columbia's 102-year-old student newspaper — hopes change is coming swiftly because without it, she fears her future career could suffer.

Olusanya worries about what she says many journalists of colour have warned her of — namely, systemic racism and how it has kept Black and Indigenous journalists from positions of editorial power.

"Even though I am an editor right now, I'm thinking about entering the industry later [and] whether that's going to be replicated for me at big news organizations," said Olusanya, also speaking on The Early Edition.

According to Li, there has not been a study released about demographic data in Canadian newsrooms in over a decade and it is time for newsrooms to begin self-reporting on a regular basis.

"You can't change what you don't first acknowledge," said Li, adding that change starts with hiring more people of colour. That means not just "rank and file" jobs, she says, but also management level positions that have hiring and editorial control.

This, said Sxwithul'txw, would make media outlets more attractive for Indigenous and Black journalists and create newsrooms that better understand these perspectives so those journalists feel comfortable and don't jump ship.

"Let's be honest, it happens all the time and has been happening for years," said Sxwithul'txw, about the exodus of minority voices in media.

Stephanie Cram
Stephanie Cram

Susan Marjetti, CBC's general manager for news, current affairs and local programming, said CBC, like many Canadian organizations, is working hard to change from within in terms of hiring, promotion and editorial choices,

"Systemic racism is real in all organizations and our industry, and the CBC is just a microcosm," said Marjetti on The Early Edition.

On the same show, Fenlon re-stated his commitment to reviewing the JSP, which was created to ensure journalists are objective and impartial.

When it comes to matters of race and identity, Olusanya says, for her, there is no debate: "That everybody is equal and has the right to have their lives matter should not be necessarily a controversial thing to state."

To hear Anita Li, Danni Olusanya and Steve Sxwithul'txw interviewed on The Early Edition, tap here.

To hear the interview with CBC's Brodie Fenlon and Susan Marjetti on The Early Edition, tap here.

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