Below is the response I received to my complaint filed (see here) with the CBC Ombudsman
Dear Dean Skoreyko:
I am writing in reply to your e-mail of December 19, addressed to Esther Enkin, CBC Ombudsman, drawing our attention to what you see as a “racist term” used by a panelist on the December 17 edition of The Sunday Scrum on CBC News Network.
As an Executive Producer of CBC News Network, I am responsible for programming that day. Jennifer McGuire, General Manager and Editor in Chief of CBC News, has asked me to reply to you directly, which I am pleased to do.
Naturally, I regret you are disappointed in CBC, but your view here is not one I share, although I think the comment might have been more clearly expressed. Let me explain why I say that.
As part of our programming, CBC News Network includes segments such as The Sunday Scrum, which are specifically designed to include a range of views on the controversial stories and issues affecting Canadians.
On this edition were two regular contributors, Susan Riley, a veteran Ottawa writer and columnist, and John Ibbitson, a columnist at The Globe and Mail. Joining them on that edition was Vicky Mochama, the national columnist for Metro News.
The Sunday Scrum had a year-end theme that week – the “People of the Year” edition – and the panelists were asked for their views on a number of issues, including the stories they thought picked up too much coverage, and those given too little; people who dominated the headlines, and those who had an influence, but didn’t get the attention they should have.
In that last category, John Ibbitson led off the discussion by pointing to Lindsay Shepherd, the Sir Wilfrid Laurier University teaching assistant. It was a recording of her disciplinary hearing at the university that went viral, he said, and “exploded the whole issue of the debate within the social sciences and humanities on the right of freedom of expression versus the right of protection; the right to safe spaces; the right not to be subject to aggression”. “No matter where you are in the debate”, he added, “it was Ms. Shepherd and that tape that blew the entire issue open … for which she deserves great credit”.
Ms. Mochama said she disagreed. She said “I think a lot of people responded to her for the same reason they tend to respond to things because she’s a young crying white girl”. She went on to say that there were “lots of moments when [a conversation about] academic freedom could have been had and [they] have been skipped over serially”.
Yes, Ms. Mochama used a provocative phrase. But it was not “racist”, as you suggested. In fact, she was not even commenting on the substance of what has become a polarizing political debate. Rather, she was alleging that racism was a factor in the attention paid to Ms. Shepherd’s story – or more accurately, her treatment by the university. From Ms. Mochama’s perspective, similar issues on Canadian campuses have been raised by students of diverse backgrounds without receiving the kind of traction that Ms. Shepherd’s case did – and that was problematic.We expect commentators to be insightful, to express their views clearly, succinctly and, yes, sometimes provocatively, which Ms. Mochama did. In this instance her point would have been clearer had she offered more context in explanation. But it was not inherently racist or sexist.
Moreover, you wrote that Ms. Mochama “dismissed [Ms. Shepherd’s] fight for university freedom because she [said] she ‘leans hard right’ politically”. After suggesting why she thought Ms.Shepherd got attention, Ms. Mochama went on to say that she thought Ms. Shepherd was also an “inappropriate person to launch this conversation because it turns out she leans hard right in some of her [choices]”. Once again, that is Ms. Mochama’s view. Others, including Mr. Ibbitson, appear to feel that she is an appropriate person.
I should also be clear that it is CBC’s mandate, part of its obligation under the federal Broadcasting Act, to carry different points of view on controversial matters such as this one. It is a concept that lies at the heart of the notion of fairness in journalism. Of course, not everyone will agree with all the views expressed, as you do not in this instance. I understand that. But it is the CBC’s responsibility to ensure that Canadians are given the opportunity and the information they need to make up their own minds.Thank you again for your email. I appreciate hearing your views, which I will consider in the
preparation and planning of future programs.
Executive Producer, Daily News