My Dialogue with CBC
By Yang Wang
December 31, 2020
Recently, I had several emails with the CBC, exchanging our opinions on a piece of news aired on their radio. I’d like to share with friends the key parts of the correspondences which are pretty self-explanatory as follows. Thanks to my friends for helping me find the contact information, and for their feedback during our chats!
October 7, 2020, from me to the CBC Ombudsman who is responsible for evaluating program compliance with the CBC’s journalistic policies.
“I listened to a news report on CBC Radio One this morning …on illegal marijuana grow-ops in Eastern Ontario. I was upset that the reporter abruptly mentioned ‘Asian gangs’ in it, leaving a quick impression that Asians were controlling the illegal pot growing business in Canada.”
“I wondered whether you had any regulations on revealing the race of offenders when reporting crimes? I assume so because usually when you report shootings, arsons etc. I almost never hear race mentioned. I would like to know whether this report singling out a specific race group going on air conforms to your policy.
I also wondered whether the impression the report left its listeners with was true or reflected the whole picture of the pot growing business in the country. If the news had to mention the race issue, as a listener I would want to know a comprehensive view of all the racial factors involved in the business, such as the race of the majorities who got the government’s permits to grow pots legally as well as who grew it illegally.
I applaud for the police’s raids on the illegal grow-ops, and I appreciate the report for letting the public know about the danger we face. The only issue here is the racial profiling in the tone of the report. It hurts when the media care less about the damage they may cause to the Asian community by careless, if not intentional, racial profiling in their coverage on negative incidents, while there are lots of positive things happening in the community without being known to the public.“
November 23, 2020, from the Senior Managing Director of CBC Ontario Region to me
“Thank you for your email. The Editor in Chief of CBC, XXX, has shared your email with me for response as I am responsible for the work of the journalists on the CBC Ottawa team.
Before responding to your complaint, I must sincerely apologize for the length of time it has taken me to do so. We aim to respond to complaints swiftly and I failed you in this instance.”
“In reviewing stories, we turn to the CBC’s Journalistic Standards and Practices (JSP), our core principles, for guidance. In this case, the most relevant section of the JSP is about language and how we must avoid prejudice. Here is an exerpt:
We are aware of our influence on how minorities or vulnerable groups are perceived. We do not mention national or ethnic origin, colour, religious affiliation, physical characteristics or disabilities, mental illness, sexual orientation or age except when important to an understanding of the subject or when a person is the object of a search and such personal characteristics will facilitate identification.
We avoid generalizations, stereotypes and any degrading or offensive words or images that could feed prejudice or expose people to hatred or contempt. Criminal matters require special care and precision.
The online story about the grow-up raids was comprehensive. The online form allows for more depth and context when telling a complex story such as this one. The story focused on the fact that there had been 18 raids in Eastern Ontario between late July and early October 2020. The story included a detailed map, showing specific locations and the number of plants seized in each raid. Later in the story there was mention of the fact that almost all of the people arrested – 120 of the total 126 – had names that appeared to be of east or southeast Asian origin. An expert knowledgeable about gang activity, specifically in Asian communities, said that the large scale of the operations in eastern Ontario was sophisticated and indicated that it was the work of organized crime. The criminologist also commented that the capital for such activities specifically flowed from Chinese investors. Police did not provide more information or details about those arrested. It is my belief that the language used in the online story was fair and provided the context necessary to explain our reason for discussing the race of those arrested.
Now I will turn to the radio story. The radio version is by nature a shorter version than what is provided online because of the time constraints of the medium. The section of the radio script that used the phrase that caught your attention is here:
Rob Gordon is a criminologist at Simon Fraser University in B-C.
He’s studied the role of Asian gangs in the drug trade of BC’s lower mainland. And he says these arrests point to organized crime.
As you can see, the phrase that caught your ear was used to describe the expertise of an academic. The offhanded use of the phrase ‘Asian gangs’ clearly caused you some alarm. While the reporter who wrote the story did not intend to offend, his use of this phrase did just that. Upon reflection, we know that we should have taken more care with the use of language to describe Mr. Gordon’s subject area. By failing to do so, we may have reinforced existing stereotypes. In the end, our language proved to be a distraction rather than facilitating clearer understanding.
I can assure you that we have had a follow up conversation with the reporter involved in order to help him understand the negative impact this has had on you and others who listened to the story.”
December 27, 2020 From me to CBC
“Thank you for your response. Sorry for late reply, but I have been busy running a cultural club for its last few events, and then with the Christmas. I wanted to find a quiet time to sit down to write to you.
First of all, thank you for your thorough investigation and comprehensive explanation. It made me feel the time I had waited was worthwhile. I was glad that you agreed with me that the radio story should have done differently to avoid confusion and racial profiling to comply with the CBC’s Journalistic Standards and Practices. Like you, I had no problem with the web version that gave a comprehensive, factual report of the crack-down of the crime.
I especially appreciated the excerpt of the relevant section of the JSP you shared with me, plus the concise but right-to-the-point analysis of the defects of the radio story. I saw your professionalism and integrity in them. As an Asian Canadian, on the one hand I feel very proud of the country for its diversity and kindness compared to other countries; on the other, I can feel frustrated when sometimes the pains and voice of minorities seem to be overlooked by the main stream. The rise of racism against Asian communities in the pandemic worries me. CBC plays a prominent role in keeping Canadians informed, united, to move towards an even more dynamic and humane society for all members. We rely on you for that. Your thorough investigation and explanation has given me more confidence in CBC, and made me even more proud of Canada. Thank you!”
As a first generation immigrant who came from a very different culture, sometimes I am not sure about the feel I have for things that upset me. Is the feel legitimate? Could it be me being over-sensitive? Would it be seen as normal in the context of Canadian culture? I once asked a guest speaker at our club’s East&West Dialogue event how she would define discrimination without being over-sensitive. The elementary school principal, who came to share her experience of growing up in Canada as a Caribbean immigrant, said if people said or did something that made you feel uncomfortable, then that might be it; they should not continue to do so. I have had few incidents to feel that way for which I am grateful to the pro-diversity culture of this country, and the nice people – both friends and strangers – I have encountered. However, on the morning of October 7 I did feel very uncomfortable at the tone of the news on radio: I felt the way the announcer put things together in that short period of time might quickly lead listeners to think that from coast to coast Asians were growing pots illegally, doing harm to the country. I talked to a couple of local friends to confirm that nowadays in Canada the usual practice of media was not to reveal the race information of offenders. In the midst of the pandemic when Asians became the targets of hostility held by quite some people, I felt so frustrated that I could not focus on the conference meetings I was supposed to attend that day. I felt I had to write to the CBC to express my concerns. A day or two later I talked to a friend about this. She worked for a luxury watch store whose business relied heavily on rich Asian customers in recent years. She told me that her boss did use this incident to verbally attack their Asian customer when he was disappointed that the customer decided not to buy a watch, quoting the news and saying they did not need Asian customers business as they were all criminals. I knew her boss had always been a racist. The news to him was like a dog whistle. By the way, I wish he would indeed reject all those customers as I always secretly hope those rich guys could spend the money for better causes to help people in need, instead of buying luxury stuff one after another!
I was glad that my voice was heard. I would encourage everyone to voice your concerns as well, if you have any. Other people may never have to experience what we experience. We cannot expect them to always stand in our shoes to feel what we feel. People need to communicate with one another for deeper mutual understanding. My dialogue with the CBC has enhanced my confidence that Canada is ultimately a place of decency and fair play. If we find some spots that are not so perfect, we get to point them out: that is one way we could contribute!
On this last day of 2020, I wish peace and love would lead us through the dark times, and all people could work together to beat the pandemic. Happy New Year to everyone!