Challenging First-Hand Stories.

The complainant, Peter Miasnikof, thought Metro Morning host Matt Galloway should have challenged Jesse Wente’s account of discrimination as a child because this was only anecdotal evidence. He thought this was a pattern of pushing a “racially motivated militancy.” His assessment was incorrect.

COMPLAINT

You believe that Metro Morning has “a recurrent racially motivated militancy masquerading as journalism” and that Mr. Galloway is indulging his own agenda. As a “Canadian of European descent,” you think the programme “promotes inflammatory defamation of a specific demographic.” You cited an example of a segment on the programme broadcast in June of this year concerning an event at a junior hockey game in Quebec. At a minor league hockey tournament, an Indigenous team was subjected to racial taunts from other players, coaches and fans:

The centerpiece of this report was the interview of someone who claimed to have witnessed the events. Unfortunately, the interviewee was allowed (even encouraged) to go far beyond a simple description of events and into a diatribe filled with accusations. He made the inflammatory and unsupported claim that systemic racism is rampant in Quebec and ingrained in its education system.

You wondered why someone who was not even at the event was allowed to comment on it, and you felt Mr. Galloway should have challenged his “anecdotal evidence”. You added:

He accused an entire province and its educational system of systemic racism, on the basis of third party claims and his own personal experience and biases. Beyond his own anecdotal experience gained through his visits to the province, Mr. Wente has no particular knowledge or expertise that would make his opinion about the province of Quebec airtime-worthy.

You thought it was not good enough to let people tell about their experiences of discrimination - you considered this anecdotal. They must be rooted in fact or strongly challenged - and this never happens when dealing with visible minorities. You thought Mr. Galloway only does interviews about race when people of colour are involved, and cited as an example that there was no coverage of an incident in which you say two white students were turned away from an event at Ryerson University.

You also think there should be a much broader range of commentators on the programme.

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

The Executive Producer at CBC Toronto, Alan Habbick, replied to your concerns. He explained the segment you heard involved Jesse Wente who does a weekly commentary on the show. His appearances cover a broad range of topics and on the June 5th programme he was asked to speak about a racist incident involving an Indigenous hockey team playing in the province of Quebec. The players were verbally abused by a coach, fans and other players. He did not agree that Mr. Wente, who is Indigenous himself, made inflammatory comments:

Mr. Wente did not claim to witness the events but he did describe how he understood what those Indigenous hockey players experienced because he has also been subjected to the same kind of abuse in his own life. Mr. Wente did not make "the inflammatory and unsupported claim that systemic racism is rampant in Quebec." Mr. Wente did say this: "Some of the most flagrant racism that I have experienced has taken place in Quebec while I was there as a visitor...just walking down the street." This is Mr. Wente's own experience as someone who has travelled widely throughout Canada and in other parts of the world.

He said it was not unusual to do some stories about events outside Toronto - that this was something Metro Morning has historically done when there were different hosts in charge of the programme. He pointed out that many residents of this city are from elsewhere, and it makes editorial sense to address stories from the city and the world:

Metro Morning has been on-the-air for 45 years under a number of different hosts, and I think it's fair to say that the vast majority of our listeners rely on Matt Galloway and his team to inform them about what's happening in their community and around the world...It's impossible to focus on all of the issues that matter to every demographic group in the GTA every day or every week, but over time we try to try to reflect issues that are meaningful to as many of them as possible, including people who are of European descent.

He told you he checked the programme logs for some coverage of the Ryerson incident you mentioned. He said it is difficult to reconstruct why the item was not covered at the time, since it happened three years ago. He noted that there are many factors on why a story is covered or not. He said the dominant story at the time was a teaching assistant strike at the University of Toronto and that was the major focus of coverage on Metro Morning, as well as most other media outlets.

He acknowledged your suggestion of other people to interview and said he would pass them on to programmers for their consideration.

REVIEW

Your assumption that Mr. Galloway as a black man has an agenda other than reflecting the concerns and experience of a great number of the citizens of this city and country is unfortunate and unfounded. First of all, he does not dictate what is on the programme - a team of producers do so. The mandate of the programme and of CBC is to present diverse views and to reflect Canada and Canadians to one another. Toronto is one of the most diverse cities in the world. In the last census, half the population identified as visible minorities. The programme covers a range of topics - one of them involves the lived experience of people of color and the challenges they face. While that may have more resonance for some people than others, it is an issue that is in the public interest for all citizens. You focus in on stories which you believe put race front and center. Those stories do exist - issues of systemic racism; the reality of racist incidents on our streets and in our communities is not anecdotal, it is real. Looking at a random selection of line-ups for Metro Morning for the month of October reveals coverage of the municipal election in this city as well as the broader GTA, financial advice, a series on Sri Lankan food in Toronto as well as a feature on the best apples to pick at local orchards. Another check would likely have yielded segments that dealt with racism - because the news agenda offers up the need to do so on a regular basis. The degree to which it is covered may not be to your taste, but it in no way represents bias or violation of any journalistic practice.

You were concerned that Metro Morning did not cover an incident three years ago involving white students being turned away from a meeting of the Racialized Students’ Collective. Seeing bias by omission is highly subjective. As Mr. Habbick pointed out to you there were other stories which were “dominating news coverage” at the time.

You also seem to think that generally, and specifically in the case of Mr. Wente’s segment, that the racist experiences are anecdotal and should be challenged. There are many different kinds of interviews. When people are being asked about their personal experience, I am unclear what sort of challenge there might be. In this case Mr. Wente recounts hearing the sound of “war whoops” derived from old westerns, as he took to the field in softball games, as a child. I am not clear what about this requires questioning. If there was a specific accusation against a specific person then journalists would have an obligation to seek the view of the accused person, or to find corroborating evidence. This was not the case. Given the documented level of discrimination against Indigenous people there is no reason to challenge him, especially in the context of an interview that is about his own experience. This was the exchange:

MATT GALLOWAY
What has been your own experience as an Indigenous person, playing sports?

JESSE WENTE
When I read the report one detail in particular stood out the players from the First Nations Elites team described a sound they heard the other team make. I’ll make the sound for you – whooping sound.

I don’t know if you have ever heard that sound before Matt - it's supposed to be a war whoop, the sounds Indians in the movies used to make before they attacked the settlers or whatever they were...

MG
I was going to say I heard it in the movies.

JW
Yeah exactly - it's an entirely made up sound, no First Nation makes this sound, certainly in that manner, flapping your hand before your mouth. It is the same sound I heard when I was a kid playing softball in the summers in the Topham Park League in East York. It was the sound the other team would often make that sound when I came to bat. Granted it was the early 80s, a less enlightened era I suppose, but this was my neighborhood league, I lived a block away from where these diamonds still sit; and the kids on the other team would have known me, their parents might have known my parents – not like this visiting team that came into Quebec City.

And to taunt me, they made the noise of those villainous, murderous Indians of Hollywood made. Reading about those hockey players and that sound put me right back to those summers spent in Topham Park, some of my favorite memories, but also some of the hardest - it was on that diamond that I learned how people truly saw me, that my identity had already been decided for me, and it had everything to do with the colour of my skin, not the nature of my character nor indeed the quality of my play. It's a lesson I have had reinforced time and time again, that the culture that describes itself as being about equality, has made up its mind about me with one look, and a sound on a baseball field, that would echo in my ears when the police would stop me at night for having long hair, or when I was followed in a store, or in any other of countless moments in the last 35 years that sound has echoed in my ears.

Mr. Wente’s remarks about Quebec came in the context of a question from Mr. Galloway about the role and responsibility of the fans and the other adults present. Mr. Wente pointed out the sound the young people were making hasn’t been used in films for more than 30 years, and that the kids pick it up from adults - who bear the responsibility here. He then went on to make these observations about Quebec:

It is not at all surprising that this incident took place in Quebec. You know we don’t talk enough in this country how the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples is radically different in Quebec where the history is different, the approach has been different. The most flagrant racism, some of the most flagrant racism that I have experienced has taken place when I was in Quebec when I was there as a visitor, just walking on the street. So I am not surprised at all but we need the adults to act like adults….

This is hardly blaming an entire province and education system - it is a series of observations which are clearly his opinion. If this was a panel on Indigenous peoples’ relations and history in Quebec, then there would be reason to probe deeper. In this context it was a fair comment. There was also no claim anywhere in the exchange that Mr. Wente had been present at the tournament. Reports of the event confirm that among other taunts, so-called “war cries” were heard. This interview did not violate CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices.

Sincerely,

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman