I waited for a week for some kind of reaction to a story about a group representing some Manitoba Indians. They want provincial Justice officials (for now) to investigate whether the CBC is committing a hate crime by allowing racist comments about Indians on its web sites. The Southern Chiefs Organization monitored several online news sites including CBC Manitoba, versions of broadcast and print news. The group included comments from the CBC site in their complaint, as examples, obviously aiming high on their list of targets to get attention. After a week, though, nary a whisper from either the CBC or anyone else.
“The posting of these comments has happened before on the CBC site. Sometimes the very worst of comments have been removed the same day they are posted; others which are marginally less offensive are allowed to remain for months. The truth, however, remains that the CBC website is providing a vehicle for the expression of hatred, intolerance and ignorancethrough the perpetuation of stereotypes.”
Let’s go back a couple of years. The scene is a lecture room at a university in Ontario. At the front are four people including myself. Besides Sam George, an Anishnabe (Ojibway) and the real conscience behind the Ipperwash Inquiry, I am the other Indigenous person on the panel, a Mohawk, a journalist. Our panel considers whether Canadian society will learn anything from the Ipperwash Inquiry; about the abuse of police by politicians; the consequences of losing control over police blinded by racism, stereotypes, and ignorance; and government authority’s decision to use deadly force instead of negotiation with unarmed Indian protesters. A question from an Oneida man in the audience takes us into an area of growing concern, and is met with a rather flip answer from yours truly.
The man wants to know what can be done about what he reads as racist hate on Internet news sites such as that of the Globe and Mail newspaper. I tell him that I believe in free speech and the right of people – no matter how disgusting – to express themselves. I suggest taking them on at these same sites, to unmask lies or correct falsehoods, to counteract the (and I do agree) racist garbage that seems to dominate whenever there is a story about Indigenous peoples. There are also laws for inciting hatred, I suggest.
I concede that so many of the Globe’s stories that generate such hateful comments are apparently “semi-moderated,” whatever that means. What does it mean? Who knows, I ask? So, I agree with the Oneida man’s point that news sites need to be more vigilant and a lot more accountable for what they allow on their web sites.
That isn’t good enough for him, or it seems for most of the audience. I don’t make friends that day. To be honest, my answers don’t satisfy me either.
More than a decade ago, an Anishnabe journalist began to monitor the Canadian news media to complain about their failings in covering stories about Indigenous peoples and their nations. His letters to editors and producers decried bias, prejudice, lack of depth or comprehension (sometimes to a laughable degree), omission of fact, distortion, or the complete absence of coverage of newsworthy events or issues. The constant theme was: White media is bad, poorly done if done at all, racist, biased and prejudiced against Indigenous peoples.
He had a point, several in fact, but one in particular. Ignorance, bias and prejudice based on racist stereotypes constantly transmitted to mass audiences makes continued racism against Indigenous peoples a virtual certainty.
But I also remember sitting in a newsroom when that guy began his one-man campaign for media accountability. It was a typical newsroom, mostly white, about half female, middle class, university educated, and culturally insulated from the rest of the world beyond their comfortable little circles. They read his complaints, sniggered at them, uncomfortable at his assertions. They then reassured themselves that they were the good guys, just ordinary Canadians, and he was a bothersome idiot.