Private broadcasting is supposed to be diverse under Canadian law, but the government doesn’t require that companies publish their employment equity numbers.
Because of weak and inconsistent reporting guidelines, it is impossible to know the racial makeup of of private Canadian broadcasting—or whether their diversity expectations are being met.
Under the the Broadcasting Act, the bible of Canadian media regulations, private broadcasters are expected to serve and reflect the multicultural and multiracial realities of Canadians through “programming and employment opportunities.” About one in five Canadians identifies as a visible minority and more than four per cent identify as Aboriginal, according to Statistics Canada.
Private broadcasters share a few numbers in their diversity reports to highlight the success of their initiatives, and some volunteer corporation-wide numbers, but they don’t need to track their newsroom’s annual equity statistics. The public broadcaster keeps its own internal statistics, which show that the CBC is about 90 per cent white.
It’s impossible to compare statistics between different companies, according to Ryerson University researcher and professor Charles Davis.
“We’ve been through a hundred or so of those [cultural] reports,” Davis said, adding that while some broadcasters only file their initiatives, others report on-screen diversity, and still others behind-the-scenes numbers. “So you can’t really track it from year-to-year.
“The problem is inconsistency in the [CRTC’s] reporting requirements.”
Davis is the E.S. Rogers Sr. Research Chair in Media Management — in 2011 and 2012, he was part of a research project and follow-up roundtable that addressed the participation of visible minorities in screen-based media. He said the CRTC should eventually require companies to provide separate numbers for their media counterparts so they can track the shift, or lack thereof, in newsroom diversity. “CRTC doesn’t really have jurisdiction over employment equity, so I think that’s a problem.”
Broadcasters that have more than 100 workers file their employment numbers under the Employment Equity Act to the Human Rights Commission, and not to the CRTC. The racial makeup of Canada’s broadcasters is largely buried in the company-wide statistics of Bell, Rogers, and Corus. The diversity statistics for their media divisions aren’t broken out, so there’s no way to tell how diverse the on-air product is.
“We were interested in diversity in a creative occupation, whereas you find probably more diversity in a technical occupation,” Davis said. “So when they provide aggregate numbers, it doesn’t really show where the diversity is and where it isn’t.”
For example, BCE publishes its company-wide equity numbers every year. But it doesn’t publish separate numbers for its Bell Media subsidiary, which produces MUCH, CTV, and numerous other channels. Bell Media employees make up about 13 per cent of the BCE’s 50,000-person workforce.
A table from BCE’s corporate social responsibility report, showing company-wide diversity. Screenshot/BCE
“We publicly report numbers for Bell overall but not for specific business units,” said Scott Henderson, Bell Media’s vice-president of communications. “Reporting an overall number for Bell gives a far better reflection of our progress as a company.”
Bell’s chief competitor, Rogers — whose media holdings include City, OMNI and Sportsnet — also leaves out employment equity numbers for its media subsidiary in its report.
According to Rogers spokesperson Andrew Garas, Rogers Media employees make up about 20 per cent of the total Rogers workforce, but the Broadcasting Act doesn’t force them to publish media-specific numbers.
“The Broadcasting Act itself does not set out the reporting requirements, just merely indicates that the broadcasting system should reflect cultural diversity in employment opportunities,” Garas said in an email.
A table from Rogers’ corporate social responsibility report, showing company-wide diversity. Screenshot/Rogers
Nanao Kachi, the director of CRTC’s Social and Consumer Policy, said in an email that private broadcasters must file Corporate Cultural Diversity Reports in order to “report annually on [the broadcaster’s] progress on these diversity issues.” These documents set best practices and equity goals.
In 1992, the CRTC made diversity an element of licensing, saying the designated groups — women, Aboriginal persons, disabled people and members of a visible minority — continued to face “underrepresentation, high occupational concentration in clerical jobs and wage disparity” in the communications sector. It later clarified companies already covered by the Employment Equity Act wouldn’t need to answer for their employment equity practices at licensing.
The most comprehensive study of diversity in the broadcasting industry was commissioned in 2001, when the CRTC called upon the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) to form a task force to report on the cultural diversity of Canadian television, partly to set a baseline to improve upon in the following years. Four years later, the CRTC responded to the task force’s findings and said mainstream media lacked fair representation.
“Most participants perceived Asians, the largest visible minority population in Canada, as being severely underrepresented,” the CRTC said in the notice, adding that the appearance of Hispanic and Middle Eastern people was “sporadic” while Black people were better represented thanks to U.S. programming. The most pressing issue, as noted by the task force and the CRTC, was “the virtual absence of Aboriginal peoples in all genres of programming” outside of APTN. “In 10 of 11 genres studied across two languages, the presence of Aboriginal Peoples is less than one per cent of the total,” the notice said.
More than a decade since the study, no follow-up or similar report has been commissioned by the government — according to Davis, the lack of “systematic study of on-screen diversity” since 2004 has added to the problem of inconsistent reporting guidelines. However, he said that from what he understood, the CRTC is in the process of hiring a company “to sample on-screen programs and then to figure out how to measure diversity.”
Canadian newsrooms are taking advantage of the job drought to make young people work long hours, handle heavy responsibilities, but deny them benefits for years. Federal and provincial employment laws do little keep anyone safe. What gives?
“This is not slave labour,” Randy Lennox, Bell Media president of broadcasting and content, told me. He turned to a room full of media students to continue his address, but I stumbled on the metaphor. It was fitting.
At a September information session for Bell Media’s new leadership program, the room was full of media students who collectively leaned forward, salivating at the mention of jobs. After a few minutes of patting themselves on the back, Bell Media executives, Lennox among them, took questions. I was second to speak.
“So we talked about Workplace Health as part of Bell Let’s Talk, but reality is that a lot of Bell Media newsrooms hire young people under ‘As Needed’ or three- to six-month contracts and these people work full-time hours with no benefits and no security for years,” I said. “So as a company looking to hire young people, what are you doing to improve their actual working situation?”
A few people fidgeted in their seats. Lennox took a second to consider. “Great question,” he said. “So, you’re saying that in the news area of Bell Media, specifically? That work for Bell? Or just work in general?”
“Nope, work for Bell.”
“OK, so we would never hire anyone with the intent of being part-time and make them work 60 hours a week, that would never be our intent, so I’ll start with that, because this is not slave labour,” he said. “What this is is balance. We’re a balanced company, particularly in light of the fact that Let’s Talk and mental health is very very important to us. And not just because we work there, it actually means something.”
I clarified: “I am talking about people who are on contract, and they are working full-time hours … they’re basically permanent freelancers, and for years they work without benefits or security.”
“The nature of news itself is intermittent,” Lennox replied. “In other words, news requires a heavier staff at times of heavy news and a lighter staff at other times. If your question is, why don’t we hire everybody full-time, there’s not a business model there. To employ thousands of people is very challenging so we have to go the freelancer route.
“But where we can, we hire someone full-time because of the substance of the job — that’s why we’re here, by the way.”
He didn’t seem to understand I wasn’t talking about freelancers, but full-time workers who are contracted as if they are freelancers.
These people aren’t taking on brief gigs, but show up for regularly scheduled hours. Yet their often short, often shitty contracts list them as freelancers. Or maybe he did understand, but avoided the question. It’s one of the most tabooed conversations in modern journalism, after all.
With dozens of newsrooms using loopholes to keep some staff on freelance contracts without benefits, this reality has become standard. Though it’s not clear how many Canadians are on these contracts, Statistics Canada reports that in the last two decades temporary work is on the rise.
In the ever-shrinking news industry, which has been bleeding money for years, this has blurred the line between “freelancer” and “employee.” Now, there’s a new class of employee: “permalancers.” As I learn more about this reality, I keep asking myself, ‘How is this legal?’
Legality seems like least of Lee Richardson’s concerns. Having cycled through the National Post, MSN, BNN and the Toronto Star (where he got health benefits for the first time, until the layoffs in August) since 2012, he’s familiar with the permalancer contracts, insecure employment, and dismissals that plague young journalists.
“I get why they’re doing it, but it’s like a whole industry is basically propped up on these people who are just interns — just paid interns,” Richardson told me.
Though he’s never had a contract shorter than 12 months, he also doesn’t usually comb through his agreements.
The eight young journalists I’ve spoken to for this piece said they feel grateful to have a job in the industry at all. They see questioning their contracts as being ungrateful. Most said they wouldn’t bring up issues with their employers for fear of burning bridges.
Richardson said a lot of people in journalism have to deal with the instability. “They’re all going through this, they’re all trying to get benefits because they haven’t been to the dentist in years, or they’re … thinking about buying a condo and they’re like, ‘Well, is my job going to be there in six months’ time?’”
To get to the bottom of how these contracts mesh with government regulations, I spoke to Don Genova, the Canadian Media Guild organizer for freelance workers.
In a unionized place like the CBC, Genova explained, temporary workers who replace absent employees are paid the same base rate as regular employees. Thanks to the collective agreement, if they are hired on a contract longer than 13 weeks, they are also automatically enrolled in the medical plan. These rules don’t apply in non-unionized newsrooms.
Genova said these contracts are “a way of keeping the workforce disposable.”
While the law doesn’t prevent short-term contracts, there are standard protections for employees. The rules differ between federally regulated employers like CBC and other TV channels, or provincially regulated workplaces like print and online outlets. The distinction defines which rules apply: the federal Canada Labour Code or provincial employment laws like Ontario’s Employment Standards Act.
“But they don’t provide any restriction from the contract itself,” explained Arleen Huggins, an expert in employment law and a partner at the Toronto-based law firm Koskie Minsky.
“Oftentimes in these types of contracts, the employer tries to say [workers] are not employees. That the individuals are contractors. But the Employment Standards Act takes a very wide view of who is an employee. For the most part if it looks like a duck, it’s a duck, no matter what you call it.”
Short-term contracts are most often used by employers to keep employees from “acquiring service,” Huggins said, “As though the employee’s being hired fresh each time.”
This would make it easier to bypass minimum standards like probationary periods, termination notices, statutory severance pay, or pay in lieu of termination notice.
“When you have four or five contracts that are continuing for three months each, it looks like a duck,” she said. If employers only take the last of several consecutive contracts into account (in calculating, for example, notice for termination) courts tend to side with the employee.
But the problem is that many workers don’t know or fight for their rights, Huggins said. “Many employees wouldn’t know anything about what I’ve just spoken to you about.”
I emailed Bell Media six detailed questions about freelancers and contract workers. I also wanted to know how these contacts mesh with their mental health initiative. This was their full response:
I spoke to a Bell Media employee, who asked to stay anonymous for fear of repercussion, about her current contract. Having started on a three-month agreement, she has worked for almost two years in one of the company’s many newsrooms as a permalancer. She’s not technically self-employed, given that both she and her employer pay EI and CPP.
She said she doesn’t know the details of her current contract.
“It might not be the fact that it’s my employer’s fault, it might be that I was just so excited to get a job, that I didn’t even care to look,” she said. “I honestly don’t ask questions … and I don’t want to piss anyone off. This is a massive, massive company that has so many different streams of television. You want to kind of make these people happy.”
She thinks the turnover rate at Bell is high enough to make her easily replaceable.
“It doesn’t matter how good of an employee you are … someone else is right behind you,” she said. “If someone came to my role and said, ‘I want benefits, I want health care, all these things,’ they would laugh and then give the job to someone like me.
“The most depressing part of it is that we think this is a great thing. I honestly don’t think they’re trying to be malicious,” she said. “I think it’s just been done for so long.”
Despite a federal mandate to reflect the “multicultural and multiracial nature of Canada,” around 90% of staff at Canada’s public broadcaster are white.
According to survey results obtained by CANADALAND and released through an Access to Information request, only 453 CBC employees self-identified as a Person of Colour (not Caucasian or Aboriginal) on the internal CBC HR site between 2011 and March 2016.
While the survey results referred only to voluntary employee responses in 2011–16, the CBC has been surveying its employees since the 1980s. The corporation’s latest numbers reported there were 563 visible minority and 100 Aboriginal journalists at the corporation by 2015. This amounted to 9.8% of CBC employees at the time.
The CBC couldn’t say how many employees it has currently, but in March 2015 there were 7,440. This means 90–93% of employees are white. In contrast, Statistics Canada reported that one in five Canadians is a visible minority and 4.3% of Canadians identified as Aboriginal.
CBC spokesperson Alexandra Fortier said there’s been “an increase in representation for members of visible minorities.”
In 2011, 8% of CBC employees identified as visible minority or Aboriginal. By Dec. 2014 this number went up to 9.8%. “We [also] continue to exceed industry availability for women,” Fortier said, acknowledging there are areas where the CBC could do better.
According to the 1991 Broadcasting Act, the CBC has to release a yearly report on employment equity statistics, but there have been no new reports since 2014–15. The 2015–16 one will be live by Oct. 22, Fortier said.
CBC Ottawa anchor Adrian Harewood, who has been a full-time employee for 10 years, said the discussion about racial diversity isn’t always loud enough at the CBC and depends mainly on regional managers.
“I think that there is a little bit of chatter about diversity [in Ottawa] — certainly one of our bosses (Ruth Zowdu) … is committed to bringing change to the organization and has made, in my mind, a sincere effort to do it. But I am not sure if that same commitment exists amongst managers across the country,” he said. “I think we absolutely need more producers and managers of colour in the ranks of CBC.”
Harewood said the positive shift in hiring more women (who made up 46.9% of CBC employees at the turn of 2015) shows how much management commitment can impact newsroom diversity.
“If you look at leadership at CBC … a lot of the people who are in the leadership positions are women. White women. It’s not as if that can’t change — there’s no reason why the CBC could not set a goal of achieving more diversity by 2025 and reaching it, but the organization has to be serious about it,” he said.
“I think a commitment has to be made to broadening the pool of producers and managers at CBC. It is not acceptable in 2016 given the ethno-racial makeup of the population that this reality is not reflected in our national institutions.”
For Harewood, part of the problem is the industry itself and a shortage of young, racialized students who go to journalism school. He said the CBC could collaborate with universities and colleges, and work with communities to encourage careers in journalism by establishing workshops and scholarships.
“I don’t think the CBC’s doing enough, and the CBC should be a leader, I think, when it comes to these issues — because it’s not as if it’s unaware of it. We’re often doing stories about these very issues in other institutions, and we hold other institutions to account.”
He added that the CBC could also do more to bring in qualified people of colour, in the same way that it made positive steps toward covering more Aboriginal issues by establishing CBC News-Aboriginal.
“I think that there has been definite change in trying to bring more Aboriginal journalists into CBC, and to invest more resources in covering the Aboriginal file, and I think that’s noticeable and it’s admirable. With other racialized communities, I don’t think there’s the same focus … or investment,” he said.
The CBC uses CBC News-Aboriginal and CBC North to report mainly on Aboriginal issues, but Aboriginal people accounted for only 100 jobs of all full-time and part-time employees in Dec. 2014.
In an interview with CANADALAND, a former CBC North employee and Aboriginal journalist, who asked to stay anonymous to protect future career opportunities, said the number of Aboriginal employees at the CBC is “poor.”
“We need more representation in the news to tell our own stories,” they said, adding that racial diversity in the newsroom has worsened in the past few years.
“I think that they have one person there representing each language. And that person, I believe, is responsible for finding stories in their region or their communities that are relevant to their radio shows, and that could potentially be pitched as a news story.
“But then it would usually be a news story that would be told by one of the white reporters, or whatever diversity reporter happens to be there,” they said. “There are a lot of southern (white) journalists being pulled in, now more so than ever, since a lot of [the Aboriginal] people have aged and left the CBC.”
Fortier said, “almost half [of] CBC North’s current staff is Indigenous.” To help recruit and retain Aboriginal journalists and other “diverse candidates,” managers are given access a $175,000 annual fund for “internships and development opportunities,” she said.
Aside from the fund, the voluntary survey, the Inclusion and Diversity Plans, and the employment equity and Canadian Multiculturalism Act annual reports, the CBC uses new employee questionnaires and on-air programs to track its diversity.
The Inclusion and Diversity Plan said that in 2011, none of the 11 senior managers belonged to Aboriginal or visible minority groups. By Dec. 2014, one of eight senior managers was reported as a Person of Colour.
In 2006, less than 6% of CBC employees were People of Colour. Almost a decade later, this number has gone up by less than 3 percentage points. Aboriginal representation has fared even worse: in 2009, 1.4% of CBC employees were Aboriginal, and five years later the number changed to 1.5%. In both cases, that’s about half of the industry availability for Aboriginal journalists.
But according to a CBC Toronto employee, who asked to stay anonymous for fear of repercussions, these surveys and reports don’t shift the numbers enough to make a real difference in the newsrooms.
“The priorities of the executive … don’t necessarily change the day-to-day culture,” he said, adding that the only tangible difference in the CBC Toronto newsroom has been an increase in racially diverse interns, not managers. “The higher up the chain you go, the worse it gets.”
The CBC provides a list of its reports and plans, including its equity reports, here.