In the wake of the arbitration decision in the matter of CBC vs. CMG on behalf of journalist Ahmar Khan, the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) calls on all Canadian newsrooms to guarantee that journalists can discuss and report on race and racism without reasonable fear of censure or repercussion.
“As journalists, our primary job is to hold uncomfortable but transparent conversations about complicated truths,” said CAJ president Brent Jolly. “The CAJ will always strive to ensure that those who don’t feel they can speak up have a voice in their newsrooms.”
On Jan. 12, an arbitrator ruled that Khan was improperly fired by CBC Manitoba after sharing with outside journalists how CBC managers made him take down a tweet criticizing Don Cherry as “xenophobic” because it went against the broadcaster’s journalistic standards and practices. Those practices stipulate that reporters cannot express opinions about topics that they could cover.
The arbitrator determined the termination was wrong because the information gathered to fire Khan came from a violation of his privacy, when a colleague went through months of his private messages on Twitter and Whatsapp after Khan remained signed in on a shared company laptop.
In a memo following the decision, CBC management told staff they felt no wrongdoing had occurred in this case.
The CAJ supports Khan’s attempts to highlight concerns about racism at Canada’s national broadcaster, and reached out directly to CBC management to express our concerns with some of the facts revealed in the decision.
CBC reaffirmed its previously announced plan that one of every two hires and promotions will come from underrepresented groups. In the wake of this past summer’s ‘racial reckoning’, CBC also established a confidential hotline that employees can use to report racism in the workplace, and announced a review of its journalistic standards and practices.
“The CAJ respects the CBC’s stated commitments to become a more inclusive organization,” said Jolly. “At the same time, however, we cannot lose sight that, as an industry, there is still a very long way to go before we get to where we need to be.”
“A critical step towards a more equitable future is to ensure that journalists are free to hold uncomfortable conversations about racism, including in our own backyards,” Jolly said.
To that end, the CAJ strongly encourages newsroom managers to complete our inaugural diversity survey so we can begin to track diversity in Canadian media organizations.
Second, the CAJ recommends all newsrooms review their internal journalism policies on topics such as social media use and fairness to ensure they are not being disproportionately enforced against journalists of colour.
Third, and most important, we encourage newsrooms to deal with staff concerns about racism the same way they would report out any other story. Seek out the truth and advocate for change if there is wrongdoing. Don’t fire the staff for raising concerns. Create a safe and trusting space for such conversations.
Over the past several months, the CAJ has documented many harrowing instances where, either publicly or privately, journalists of colour have raised concerns about being disproportionately subjected to an uneven enforcement of organization-specific journalistic standards and practices.
Last September, for example, Pacinthe Mattar wrote about the challenges journalists of colour face in challenging the conventions of reporting on race — an experience she found led to them being “pushed out, reprimanded, or robbed of new opportunities” and being reminded of the tenants of accuracy and fairness. The disproportionate treatments and their mental health repercussions have been highlighted by Kayla Grey, Alley Wilson, Imani Walker, Kathleen Newman-Bremang, Dexter Brown, Supriya Dwivedi, Denise Balkissoon and more.
The common thread we’ve identified is that journalists of colour are feeling the futility that no one case, no one bad experience, no one misguided decision is strong enough to lead to concrete change.
While this has been said time and again over the course of the past several years, it bears repeating: Canadian journalism has a race problem. The onus to address that should not rest on the shoulders of journalists of colour, like Khan, who have experienced a great deal of mental and emotional turmoil while simply doing their job.
“How we choose to confront the issues of racism and diversity in the media is the greatest test of our times,” said Jolly. “We must always strive to do better.”
If you’re a journalist or a manager who is seeking to have those conversations in your newsroom we’d like to hear from you and help make those discussions productive. Please reach out to Brent Jolly (firstname.lastname@example.org) or any board member.
The Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) is a professional organization with more than 800 members across Canada. The CAJ’s primary roles are public-interest advocacy work and professional development for its members.
For further information:
Brent Jolly, CAJ president
Fatima Syed, CAJ vice-president