We read with great interest about the CBC’s decision to suspend online comments, albeit temporarily, on indigenous-related stories on the CBC’s website. In remarks posted to the CBC’s website on November 30, Brodie Fenlon, acting director of digital news, CBC News and Centres, stated the following:
“But as our guidelines make clear, we draw the line on hate speech and personal attacks.
While there are a number of subjects and groups of people who seem to bring out higher-than-average numbers of worrisome comments, we find ourselves with a unique situation when it comes to indigenous-related stories.
We’ve noticed over many months that these stories draw a disproportionate number of comments that cross the line and violate our guidelines. Some of the violations are obvious, some not so obvious; some comments are clearly hateful and vitriolic, some are simply ignorant. And some appear to be hate disguised as ignorance (i.e., racist sentiments expressed in benign language).”
HonestReporting Canada is a staunch free speech defender and encourages a very wide marketplace of ideas, but we – like the CBC – draw the line when it comes to abusive and hateful commentary, especially incendiary remarks that target and demonize Jews and supporters of Israel. Sadly, while yesterday’s bigots were on the peripheries of society, now they have usurped the platforms of major news organizations via their message boards and now have audiences in the millions. The CBC policy on commenting on Israel-related article can be read here on our website. We, along with our members, regularly flag commentary on the CBC’s website which clearly crosses the line and which sees many individuals call for Israel to be wiped off the map or who compare Israelis to Nazis.
Recently, HRC respectfully requested that CBC suspend message boards on Israel-related stories too in light of the hateful comments – especially during the current conflict –even if this was a temporary measure towards a long term solution.
Responding on behalf of the CBC, Jack Nagler, Director, Journalistic Public Accountability and Engagement, stated the following in correspondence sent to HRC Executive Director Mike Fegelman on January 20:
Brodie Fenlon shared with me your Dec. 1st email, in which you call for CBC to suspend commenting on stories related to Israel.
We understand your concerns that stories about the Middle East generate higher-than-average numbers of comments that challenge – or outright violate – CBC’s commenting guidelines. And we are glad that you are making regular use of the flag feature so that unacceptable comments are deleted from our website.
As Mr. Fenlon indicated in his recent blog post announcing the temporary suspension of comments on indigenous-related stories, there are several categories of stories that seem to inspire more of these kinds of comments.
For the moment, we are focusing our review on the indigenous-related stories, and do not intend to extend it further. But it is quite possible that our learnings there will inform future decisions on a wider range of stories, including those about Israel.
Director, Journalistic Public Accountability and Engagement
While we appreciate the CBC’s reply and its recognizing that Middle East stories feature many comments which “outright violate” its commenting guidelines, CBC’s response was regretfully evasive. CBC, by its own admission, has prioritized Aboriginal related articles above all other minorities and faith-based groups, despite Jews being one of the most targeted groups for hate crimes in Canada. Ultimately, CBC is outsourcing the job of finding/flagging abusive comments on its website to HonestReporting Canada and to the general public.
On the positive side, CBC has implicitly left the door open that some changes may be in store for Israel-related articles, and we will continue to vigilantly monitor and flag abusive comments to CBC editors.