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CBC Responds to Open Letter from REMC and DOC

June 6 letter drew over 700 signatures from documentary filmmakers and industry peers

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The CBC has responded to an open letter from the Racial Equity Media Collective (REMC) and the Documentary Organization of (DOC). In a letter to REMC dated June 13, CBC management followed-up on the joint letter asking Canada’s public broadcaster to address allegations of Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian racism. REMC/DOC’s letter had over 550 signatures upon publication. The number has since grown to nearly 750 names.

CBC’s response recognized the hurt experienced by signatories of the open letter. “Creating a safe space for our staff to share their opinions and lived experiences is crucial to cultivating an inclusive workplace environment where employees are heard, respected and supported,” said the letter, which was jointly signed by Catherine Tait (CBC President & CEO), Sally Catto (General Manager, Programming), and Jennifer Dettman (Executive Director, Unscripted Content). “We welcome respectful, vigorous debate when making editorial decisions on how best to cover the most complex of stories or in determining what documentaries get commissioned.”

The joint letter from REMC and DOC noted cases of inflammatory, violent, and racist language alleged to have been posted on social media by a CBC documentary executive. The June 6 letter also charged the CBC with “recent examples of anti-Palestinian bias and anti-Palestinian racism” in the news and documentary units. (CBC’s response spoke to tensions caused by the Israel-Hamas war, but omitted reference to Palestine.)

Among the list of commitments requested by REMC were that CBC “commit to a 10-year historical audit disclosing data relating to the commissioning and licensing of productions by independent racialized and Indigenous creators” and “publicly set out the steps it will undertake to ensure that Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian racism will no longer be tolerated within CBC, including specific steps to ensure that these forms of discrimination will not continue to influence which films and filmmakers are supported.”

“We recognize you have asked for several commitments from CBC; some of these are already in place and we will take the others under consideration,” noted the CBC. “While we can never make everyone feel satisfied or fulfill every request, we are committed to regaining the trust within the documentary community, keep listening and continue to offer many doors for filmmakers to come through with their pitches.”

In a statement issued on June 17, REMC managing director Julian Carrington expressed disappointment with the CBC’s failure to engage documentary filmmakers and industry peers in a substantial way. “CBC’s statement speaks of the importance of creating a ‘safe space for our staff to share their opinions and lived experiences.’ But it notably declines to acknowledge the duty of safety that CBC also owes to the independent filmmakers that CBC relies upon to produce much of its documentary content,” wrote Carrington.

Carrington also noted the CBC’s failure to address one of the open letter’s demands, which was for the broadcaster to establish a method for filmmakers to report cases of discrimination.

“While the letter speaks of a ‘divisive’ environment that is ‘fraught with nuance and contradiction,’ we would hope this particular demand would be wholly uncontroversial: independent producers deserve clarity as to how they can safely seek redress should they experience discrimination from a CBC employee,” wrote Carrington.

In an email, DOC executive director Sarah Spring cited the organization’s research and advocacy for mental health best practices and said that filmmakers want to see more transparency, which includes audits that show who receives public funding. Spring said that such practices can let broadcasters address their blind spots, as can working with cultural advisors who are sensitive to creators’ needs.

Spring agreed with Carrington that the CBC’s response was inadequate. “A few days ago, a Canadian filmmaker from the Middle East who is trying to put her funding together for a fantastic looking documentary told me that she is seeking other options rather than pitching it to CBC,” said Spring. “There are a lot of caring and hardworking people at CBC who are doing everything they can to contradict this narrative, but the messaging and the transparency around what structural changes CBC is doing to change this reaction has to come from the top.”

“CBC’s professed desire to regain the community’s trust will only ring true when CBC makes a detailed, substantive, and public effort to articulate the policies and concrete actions that will address the community’s concerns,” added Carrington.

 

Read the CBC’s full response below:

 

June 13, 2024

Julian Carrington

Managing Director, Racial Equity Media Collective

 

Dear Mr. Carrington,

Thank you for taking the time to write to us about your concerns regarding our news coverage of the Israel-Hamas war and CBC’s internal culture.

Not surprisingly, this war has surfaced tensions between so many Canadians and, by extension, some of our employees. They have strong views and feel their public broadcaster should reflect those views in its news coverage and, where applicable, with other content.

Beyond the public, our management teams in both content divisions regularly hear from our employees. And we want feedback. Creating a safe space for our staff to share their opinions and lived experiences is crucial to cultivating an inclusive workplace environment where employees are heard, respected and supported. We welcome respectful, vigorous debate when making editorial decisions on how best to cover the most complex of stories or in determining what documentaries get commissioned.

None of this is easy and that’s why we want to ensure our employees get the support they feel they need. We continue to provide opportunities for people to express their concerns. And that happens regularly – in one on one meetings, in editorial discussions, in team meetings and in discussions with our employee resource groups. Our senior leaders are addressing issues as they come up – carefully, thoroughly and thoughtfully. And always with a view to improving how we serve Canadians.

Separately, as you have noted, there have been meetings to hear the concerns of documentary filmmakers and racialized screen creators; most of those concerns are expressed in the open letter. Most notably, we want to acknowledge the hurt some individuals have experienced.

We recognize you have asked for several commitments from CBC; some of these are already in place and we will take the others under consideration. While we can never make everyone feel satisfied or fulfill every request, we are committed to regaining the trust within the documentary community, keep listening and continue to offer many doors for filmmakers to come through with their pitches.

Candidly, what we are experiencing at CBC is a microcosm of what’s happening all over the world and that’s to be expected; this is such an emotionally charged topic, personal as it is divisive.

Given the strong emotions attached to the catastrophic events that have occurred in the Middle East, seemingly every day is fraught with nuance and contradiction. It’s admittedly challenging for leaders right through the organization just as it is far from the hallways and meeting rooms of the CBC.

Thank you again for reaching out to us; we are committed to continuing the conversation.

Sincerely,

Catherine Tait, President & CEO CBC/Radio-Canada

Sally Catto,  General Manager, Programming (CBC)

Jennifer Dettman, Executive Director, Unscripted Content (CBC)

 

CC:

Amira Elghawaby, Special Representative on Combatting Islamophobia of Canada

Vicky Eatrides, Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer, Canada Radio-television and

Telecommunications Commission – CRTC

Office of the Values and Ethics Commissioner, CBC/Radio-Canada

Sally Catto, General Manager, Programming CBC

Jennifer Dettman, Executive Director, Unscripted Content, CBC

Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Xtra, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association and an international voter for the Golden Globe Awards.

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