Margie Gillis still can’t bring herself to watch the controversial interview that sent Canadians into an uproar last month.
“I have not been able to revisit the interview. Part of it played in my ear during a radio interview and it shook me up so badly to hear the aggressive tone in her voice,” the solo dancer and choreographer said from her home in Quebec.
With a record of more than 4,100 complaints filed to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council over the interview conducted by Sun News journalist Krista Erickson last month, it’s clear that many Canadians are quick to defend the issue of arts funding while opposing the spread of adversarial journalism in Canada.
“I have faced tough questioning about arts funding and my own funding before, but nothing to this degree. It was an attack, not journalism. She was not asking me questions, just stating things and not giving me time to respond. She was not interested in what I had to say – I was set up and attacked."
Gillis is by no means a stranger to controversy and innovation in the arts world, and was the first performer to bring modern dance to China in 1979. She has also been extensively recognized in Canada for her artistic and diplomatic efforts and was distinguished as a Member of the Order of Canada in 1987, a Knight of the National Order of Quebec in 2009 and named a laureate of the Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards for Lifetime Artistic Achievement in March of this year.
“For two weeks after the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award happened she phoned my company and talked to my administrator, telling him that they would like us on the show, that they have great admiration for my work and that they would really like to hear my opinion – he was deeply upset more than I was, because of course that’s not what happened,” she said.
“She didn’t have all her information down or correct,” Gillis said, referring to the fact that some of the funds propagated on Erickson’s show were privately raised or were coupled with awards and were not directly attributed to taxpayers.
“She wasn’t asking, she was telling. It wasn’t an interview – it was an attack. She asked for me because of certain things I’ve done – she felt I would be an easy target.”
Yet while some criticized Gillis for not being aggressive enough in her rebuttals to Erickson’s combative line of questioning, her supporters refused to remain silent – despite the CBSC refusing to accept any more complaints, saying “the volume of complaints already sent to us exceeds the Council’s resources,” in a press release last month.
“We were getting emails and letters of support from Iceland, Africa, China, all over Europe, it was astonishing to see that it was not just Canadian people that were appalled for the arts and the humanitarian factor,” Gillis said, adding that the two biggest issues of contention with the interview from viewers were the fact that Erickson mocked a dancing gesture of Gillis’ and even went as far as to say that she wouldn’t support taxpayer’s money being used to help find a solution for world peace.
“In Canada there are proper channels that one takes to complain – we put forward those appropriate solutions on our website and on Facebook, it was a grassroots thing we didn’t have a campaign here,” Gillis says of her supporters who filed complaints.
Gillis is now patiently waiting for the seven-month deadline from the CBSC review committee to determine the outcome of the complaints, which she calls an “inordinately long time”.
After repeated requests for comment, a spokesman for Sun Media said they do not wish to make comments in relation to the Erickson-Gillis interview, this after taking a bold step earlier this month by pulling 27 of their newspapers out of the Ontario Press Council, a newspaper watchdog body.
“She’s been caught out,” says Gillis of Erickson. “I don’t think she was pleased with the interview. Obviously they’ve gotten a lot of viewing hits on the channel and everyone who sees it does boost ratings, however there is also a lot of negativity. People are aware of what they’re seeing and I hope it won’t abate.”
“Her aggressive approach is obviously in thinking with the Fox network as an affiliate, an offshoot. It was done to boost ratings. I was distressed, but she received so many hate emails and I don’t wish her ill by any stretch of the imagination, however I don’t wish her to have a platform. If you look at the interview she’s wearing a headphone telling her how far to push towards me and how far to recede – it wasn’t just her.”
For now, Gillis wants to see continued public outcry on the issue of arts funding and hopes that lobbying the government will help to bring to attention issues such as this that Canadians clearly want to fight for, while at the same time standing firm against the spread of adversarial, right-wing journalism.
“I’m no longer a central figure in this issue, my image is, but I’m not. It’s about something more important. With [News of the World] issues happening I hope there is continued outcry from the public and government.”
“It isn’t news, it isn’t honest journalism and it isn’t responsible journalism.”
See the interview: