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The CBC's Culture of Abuse Runs Deeper Than Jian Ghomeshi

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Rick Eglinton via Getty Images
Rick Eglinton via Getty Images

Maybe the saddest thing is that none of this was a surprise. Not to any of us who've made it past the security desk at CBC Mother Corp in the past several years, anyway.

Former Q producer and brave soul Kathryn Borel told the world about the explicit sexual harassment she experienced while working at CBC in her explosive essay published with The Guardian. Anne Kingston wrote an impressively comprehensive feature on the toxic CBC Radio work culture and the stream of what seem to be contradictory untruths from Chris Boyce and company. We continue to read about the complaints from Q staff carefully nestled in a document code named Red Sky.

A top-secret project with a code name and exposés published in major global news outlets.

This is what's necessary to describe the work environment at the public broadcaster -- the one that receives our taxes, the one where I was employed for many years, the one I love and hope for, even though the bumbling, crumbling reality of it continues to break my heart.

We all know that the reason the Ghomeshi cover up happened is because CBC was terrified of losing what little wisps of cultural capital and funding it still had, and he was one of their best bets at doing so, right? I won't go further on this point as I hope it's painfully obvious to all. It certainly was for Borel.

Yes, the stories about his behaviour towards women both outside and inside the workplace are the stuff of nightmares.

But the culture of desperate, corrupt, clumsy butt-covering now making international news headlines was and is -- for far too many producers -- actually baked into the daily machinations of the CBC. It is all part of a day's work. And for many people in my old shoes, I do mean a day's work.

I was employed by the CBC from 2007 to 2010 in a patchwork of contracts that somehow Frankensteinishly hewed into a continuous full-time job. Many times, the "contract" lasted as little as one day. Eventually, at the point where I was producing, directing and tech'ing (i.e. pressing the buttons behind the sound board) for a live national radio show -- in other words, creating almost the entire thing -- that's when my work and hard skills finally resulted in a blissful four-month contract.

This was not just my life. This was, and is, the situation for many of the producers making the award-winning content you hear, see and read from CBC.

Cutbacks and layoffs in the thousands have resulted in a pandemic of contract work for the public broadcaster -- it's what the budget will allow.

As a contract worker, you take the scraps you're given and learn to be grateful. You cower. You defer. And you're afraid and hopeful to finally earn a job some someday and desperate to please -- especially if, like me, you believe in and want to make public radio from some deeply embedded part of your being.

It's this kind of environment where master manipulators like Ghomeshi are enabled to run wild. They prey on the many disenfranchised underlings around them -- the interns, the young contract producers, the roiling sea of eager and insecure.

For goodness sake, Borel said even she was terrified to lose her job at Q because it was her first big break. And if someone with an actual semblance of job security still felt uneasy enough to endure years of harassment, what about those who had even less to stake on their next rent cheque, not to mention their self-esteem?

It was Jian but it wasn't just Jian. I would describe behaviour from several managers at CBC as emotionally abusive. The other day I got a call from a former colleague saying one of them harassed her and other coworkers I'd worked with. She wanted to know if I had anything to share. I was not harassed or assaulted, but this is what I have to share.

Throughout the years of my CBC contract work, I thought the clenched fists of anxiety and stomach fiery with acid reflux were my own fault for not being sufficiently confident or skilled enough to have secured a real job, real respect or acknowledgement.

And now I read about these cover ups and lies. I can see, for the first time, the exploitation of power was all real. A psychologist told me the way I talk about work at CBC sounds like I'm describing an abusive relationship. And I wasn't even one of the apparently several who were harassed.

As if that should be the only bar to which coworkers and management at the public broadcaster should be held accountable. Well, at least they didn't explicitly sexually harass me! Except that, oh wait, that did happen to my Q teammate. And look at the response.

I worked at Q, among several other national shows. I didn't work there long.

They brought me on for a three-week stretch in 2008. As an arts and music-loving person, I thought it would be the promised land. I couldn't quite put my finger on it but something was seriously wrong.

Every other show I'd worked at until then had been a positive experience -- short-lived but decent. Senior producers said they liked working with me, I crafted usable content but there just wasn't a job open and if there had been an opening, it would go to a laid-off or "bumped" employee. New positions couldn't be created due to cutbacks. But if I kept trying, made my self indispensable, maybe someday... I began to tune out as they'd launch into "the speech."

But at Q something was different. I was offered a few weeks' extension and I said "no." It's not like I had another full time job to go to, the gig was just too painful to carry on.

I came to the office one morning and found a producer crying over something that happened with the host. I watched Ghomeshi completely lose it over a discrepancy in prep notes as the amazingly patient director shuddered with an attempt at calm literally 30 seconds before the live broadcast. But then, up came the intro music, and in melted the smooth-talking personality you all knew and loved. Well, hi there.

None of the stories I pitched were making it to air. I asked the executive producer for help, so I could learn to do better. He suggested I work more closely with Jian to see what stories interested him. I didn't do it. Being around him made me uneasy. In story meetings, those times that Jian did show up, producers would wince and brace for his reaction, emotions extreme and volatile.

I was just only there for three weeks, how could I approach the great and powerful JG? Now I'm very glad I didn't.

So all this is a problem because of the horrific and multiplying accounts of Ghomeshi's non-consensual sexual violence and the resulting criminal trial, because of reports of workplace sexual harassment and more. All of this is a problem because the management at the public broadcaster -- a publicly-funded institution providing a public service -- is even outing its own for covering up certain details.

But all of this is also a problem because Jian's is not the only story of maniacal power thriving at the cost of producers' rights and freedoms. And a public institution is teaching its young workers to expect little, to be afraid, and that no one is going to bat for them. Not even the union to which they're paying dues.

I fled a toxic work environment at CBC when my boyfriend took a job based in the Caribbean and I took up a career as an international freelancer (on the beach). I was lucky enough to literally fly away to a tropical island where the daily reinforcement of my disposability was a memory left in the snow banks back home.

And my cohort of contract producers who finally said "Enough!" -- the ones I think of as "the exiles of CBC" -- fled as far and wide as Korea, Ghana, Australia and beyond. We were lucky. We got out.

Later, when I moved to Nigeria, CBC broadcast my radio reports about terrorist violence claiming hundreds of lives around me. And yet life in that context was still preferable to the climate at CBC.

Sure, freelancing in the Caribbean I got a tan and snorkeled daily from my freelance HQ. In Nigeria, I gained a very different but valuable and eye-opening life experience.

It was great, but to be honest, I wish I didn't have to leave CBC. I love public radio. It's embarrassing how much I love it and believe it's important and full of potential. Even after leaving Mother Corp, I've continued to freelance for them and write about public radio policy. I can't let go.

So I see this news about Ghomeshi and I am sad and upset and horrified and angry, and yet among all those other emotions, I also somehow feel happy. I'm happy because I'm hopeful. Because maybe this catastrophe is what the CBC needed.

For so long its upper ranks were filled with brass now being publicly shamed for enabling and then covering up the reality of a workplace wracked with harassment, fear and exploitation. One that destroyed the confidence and dreams of a whole cohort of producers. One that was not structured to serve the public needs.

Now, hopefully everyone sees it. Now, hopefully everyone is not surprised.

And unlike with privately owned contract-driven workplaces -- an economy common across struggling industries at this point -- we actually have the power to change the CBC. It's a public institution. It is our national voice and that voice has been telling us lies.

It's not expensive or complicated to make ethical, useful, great radio. Get a few microphones, some broadcast towers, spark a pithy conversation and you're off to the airwaves. Great public radio's cost is almost entirely human resources. Human resources built on human respect.

And so maybe this unfortunate Ghomeshi saga will be the spark that finally burns CBC to the ground. Meaning, of course, that it would finally be freed to rise up again into something new.

Jian Ghomeshi Court Appearance
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