Digital - Written by Megan Stewart on Tuesday, February 24, 2009 23:54 - 15 Comments
Comments on CBC.ca raise questions over moderation
Image by TaranRampersad via Flickr
Accusations from Manitoba First Nation leaders that the CBC has failed to moderate its online forums for racist comments brings a new dimension to coverage of Aboriginal people in Canada and heightens the debate around site moderation.
This new dimension, of course, is the participatory and interactive nature of the Internet.
In 1996, the Royal Commission Report on Aboriginal Peoples concluded that the Canadian press was guilty of stereotyping. Where the mainstream media covered Aboriginal peoples and issues, information was misappropriated or First Nations people and groups were stereotyped. Three stereotypes dominated: the victim, the warrior and the environmentalist.
This pattern of coverage, wrote the authors of the report more than a decade ago, can â€œfoster racism and discriminatory practices.” Essentially, a lack of context and historical knowledge can espouse systemic ignorance and intolerance.
In 2002, Robert Harding found that these pigeon-hole labels persisted into the millennium, albeit with new emerging and negative stereotypes. After looking at three dailies over a four-month period, Harding determined that â€œAboriginal issues [are] framed by the media in ways that preclude Aboriginal people being â€˜readyâ€™ to exercise complete control of their lives.”
Both the Commission and Harding were examining the press – mainstream mastheads from across Canada – for nuance and subtlety. They were looking at the hard-copy work of print journalists and not the oft-anonymous comments of Internet readers.
Dialogue not dogma
The majority of websites that welcome user-generated content struggle to strike a balance between moderation and censorship. There is a place for opposing and complex views, for outspoken and vociferous opinion. However, meaningful debate champions dialogue, not dogma.
Southern Grand Chief Morris Swan Shannacappo and Chief Russell Beaulieu of the Sandy Bay First Nation are accusing the CBC of failing to adequately monitor comments on online stories and they say prejudicial statements were posted and remained on the site for a few hours before being taken down. On February 11, Schannacappo said at a press conference:
[There are] persistent bloggers who pounce on almost any story dealing with First Nations or indigenous issues and use it as an excuse to rant against or ridicule indigenous people. The world will always have its racists and kooks but the CBC is providing a vehicle for them with a forum to attack our people.
Schannacappo said the comments malign Aboriginal cultural beliefs, berate aboriginal people with racist slurs, and parade outdated stereotypes. Free speech is a valued right that should be protected, but CBC moderated and rejected a minority of comments on the grounds that some detract rather than develop the conversation.
The CP reported:
Many of the comments that have raised the ire of the southern chiefs have come in response to news stories about Aboriginal crime or tragedy. One reader comment regarding a Manitoba Aboriginal leader charged with theft and fraud said Aboriginals “just want to leech from society, sell cheap smokes and drink beer.” Another reader commenting on a story about a fatal house fire on the Chemainus First Nation in British Columbia suggested Aboriginals “should go out into the real world and work for a roof over their heads like the rest of us.”
(I considered not repeating these comments, but we should not deny the reality that racism exists within out society. It is important to speak out against prejudice of this nature.)
Schannacappo is backed by Manitoba’s acting attorney general, who agreed the comments were offensive and racist, even calling for an apology of sorts, but said there is little the province could do and the First Nations leaders should file a complaint with the human rights commission, the RCMP or the CRTC.
Online boards are active among readers of the nation’s public broadcaster, and the CBC receives nearly 200,000 comments a month and 10,000 a day. The story reporting the accusations counted 547 comments after 12 days online.
Some, surely, will have been moderated and kept from public view, and comments submitted to CBCNews.ca are expected to “relevant,” “civil,” and sensitive to “the death or injury of private individuals, especially children.” Moderation is based:
- Racist, sexist and offensive language.
- Personal attacks and defamatory statements.
- Threats or suggesting committing a criminal act.
- Posting your message in all CAPS (this makes it difficult to read and in online speak is considered yelling).
The US-based Poynter Institute offers an extensive guideline for ethical online journalism and argues that:
Done well, user-generated content adds diverse voices and opinions to an organization’s journalism, contributes to journalists’ credibility and enhances our mission as trusted guides.
New and traditional media are creating spaces for a lively public conversation. This is a constant work in progress:
What has changed in the last year is that major media companies are no longer arguing over whether they should have comments under stories or blogs; instead, the debate is about how they should moderate them and even highlight the best ones in eye-catching editorial spaces. Many sites are embracing the concept of “news as a conversation,” and trying to create active conversations among reporters, editors and readers online.
Clear standards and a transparent codes of ethics can benefit the overall quality of an organization’s journalism. Letters to the editor have an important place in the history of journalism and now comment boards share some of this purpose.
They can enable dialogue, serve a public interest and generate new knowledge and context. None of this is fostered by misinformation, including racism, prejudice and intolerance.
Leave a Reply
Most Popular Content
- Canada’s media reshaped as Bell swallows up CTV
- Richard Stursberg’s CBC departure trending on Twitter
- Toronto Star releases iPhone app
- New Globe and Mail iPad app marred by ads
- Good post. Very helpful. Thanks for sharing....
- lOcrTipPd ugg boots outlet...
- I had concede your limpidity broadened my views so i will straightaway seize you...
- Dave Kinchlea says "My ideas, my thoughts, my expressions are just as valid as ...
- If First Nation leaders don't want the stereotyping, change the stereotype. I m...
- Sell the left-wing, wasteful CBC. Now. Not later....
- I can't wait to see the socialist untruthful CBC sold. Canadians pay 1 billion $...
- I don't think they liked all the comments telling them what a crappy job the CBC...
Broadcast - Sep 10, 2010 9:18 - 2 Comments
More In Broadcast
- Richard Stursberg’s CBC departure trending on Twitter
- Federal budget “good news” for CBC
- Why Olympic hockey showdown drew record TV viewers
- CHEK News wins journalism integrity award
- The voice of the viewer in the fees-for-carriage row
Digital - Jul 27, 2010 8:03 - 0 Comments
More In Digital
- CBC Radio 3 project, Canadian Wiki Music, launched
- CBC report compares TV, radio and online news coverage
- Old and new media bet on local news in Canada
- Almost half of young Canadians contribute content online
- State of the digital media universe in Canada
Print - Jul 30, 2010 7:41 - 0 Comments
More In Print
- Globe and Mail’s future is written in ink and pixels
- Measuring the content of your city’s daily paper
- Why 140 characters is so very Cartesian
- Columnist champions editors but chides ‘unmitigated’ blogs
- CBC on the trouble with newspapers