Just How White Is The CBC?

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.

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