Prominent Radio-Canada personalities urge broadcaster to fight CRTC N-word decision

A black Montrealer who has filed a complaint against Radio-Canada over the use of the N-word on the air, says he is disappointed, but not surprised by the opposition to a recent decision by Canada’s Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission public broadcaster is ordered to apologise.

Ricardo Lamour, a social worker and artist, filed the complaint with the broadcasting and telecommunications regulator after hearing a journalist and a commentator repeat the abusive word on the air several times in 2020.

About 50 Radio-Canada personalities said in an open letter published Monday in La Presse that the CRTC’s decision in favor of Lamour last week threatens journalistic freedom and independence and “opens the door to the dangers of censorship and self-censorship”.

“In addition, if we are alarmed, it is not just for us, at Radio-Canada, but for all communications companies regulated by the CRTC,” wrote the signatories, including prominent news anchors such as Celine Galipeau and Patrice Roy, and Guy A. Lepage, the talk show host Everyone talks about it.

Radio-Canada’s former ombudsman, a minister of Quebec and groups representing journalists also condemned the decision as an attack on freedom of speech or the freedom of the press.

When asked if he was surprised by the resistance, Lamour quoted American author and activist James Baldwin, who wrote, “The power of the white world is threatened when a black man refuses to accept the definitions of the white world.”

Lamour noted that most French-speaking media figures in Quebec are white, and he wondered how many of the letter’s signatories are black.

Use of the word ‘offensive and disturbing’: complainant

He said he was motivated to file a complaint two years ago after hearing two radio personalities repeatedly use the full name of a book by Pierre Vallières with the N-word in the title, “without adequate warning and contextual discussion.”

Lamour had been waiting to go on air to discuss his work as a mentor to black youth, and heard the comments in the Radio-Canada studio through headphones. He said he was troubled by the “careless and insensitive” use of the word.

“I found it insulting and disturbing,” he said.

He filed a complaint with the CRTC after being first told by Radio-Canada’s ombudsman that using the word in that particular context — citing a book title — did not violate the journalistic standards and practices of the public. broadcaster.

The CRTC sided with Lamour. While acknowledging that the word was not used in a discriminatory manner, it found that the public service broadcaster nevertheless violated the aims and values ​​of Canadian broadcasting policy.

Radio-Canada did not do enough to mitigate the effect the word could have on its audience, “especially in the current social context and given its status as a national public broadcaster,” the CRTC decision said.

In addition to providing a written apology to the complainant, the broadcaster must also take internal measures and programming to ensure that similar issues are better addressed in the future, the CRTC said.

Decision sets a ‘dangerous precedent’: Journalism Association

Signatories to the open letter in La Presse acknowledged that the N-word is “loaded” but said it is rarely used in the air and only in a factual context “that is not offensive, insulting or dehumanizing, which is by journalistic standards.” respects and practices of Radio Canada, as well as the intelligence of our institution and its employees.”

The province’s professional association of journalists, the Federation professionnelle des journalistes du Quebec, denounced the decision as a “dangerous precedent that imposes an exaggerated and unwarranted censorship on the media”.

Quebec’s culture minister also expressed concern about the decision, tweeting that it was a serious violation of freedom of expression.

Lamour says he sees opposition to the N-word decision in part as a struggle “to assert some rights not to be responsible” by broadcasters resisting making the necessary changes to support an evolving society. better display.

“We don’t see any kind of introspection here; we see offensive things,” he said.

Rather than fight, he said, broadcasters should read the reasoning behind the decision and try to do better.

In an email, a spokesperson for Radio-Canada said the broadcaster was aware of the “wide range of opinions” about the CRTC decision.

“Radio-Canada recognizes that using the ‘N-word’ is offensive, so we’ve restricted its use on our airwaves,” the statement said.

The broadcaster said it is still studying the decision and considering how it would respond.

In 2020, former CBC News host Wendy Mesley was suspended and disciplined after an internal investigation found that she used abusive language during editorial meetings on two separate occasions.

In a long statement on Twitter, Mesley said she used the N-word when mentioning Vallières’ book and as part of discussions about racism and discrimination, saying she was “deeply sorry and ashamed”.

Mesley retired from CBC last summer.

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