As most people know by now, the CBC announced today that it is immediately cutting ties with Jian Ghomeshi, the host of the program Q. Those who are following along will also know that just after 6 p.m., Ghomeshi posted his version of events on Facebook.
The Facebook post said, in part "the implication may be made that this happens non-consensually. And that will be a lie. I am being fired in my prime from the show I love and built and threw myself into for years because of what I do in my private life."
Since that time, the Twitterverse and Facebook has been filled with Ghomeshi fans voicing their support for him and their anger at CBC management. I run a group, first on Myspace and now on Facebook, called Friends of the CBC. The group, created during the CBC lockout in 2005, has always been about supporting the public broadcaster as an institution but not always its day to day activities. I've been urged by some on that group to rename it to Friends of Jian Ghomeshi. There is even an online petition on Change.org to show support for the radio host.
As a supporter of public broadcasting, I couldn't be more disappointed with this response. Good programming, from a public broadcaster, should be about the content and not the host. The knee-jerk reaction to Ghomeshi's statement smacks of a cult of personality and not rational thought. As a former employee of the CBC, I've briefly met Ghomeshi a few times and still couldn't vouch for him based on his statement alone. I would guess though that most of those calling for the heads of management and crying over Ghomeshi's situation have never been in the same room with him.
I suspect, though I certainly have no evidence, that Ghomeshi's statement was carefully constructed. According to the Globe and Mail, in addition to hiring lawyers, Gomeshi has hired "Navigator, a prominent company that describes itself as a high-stakes public strategy and communications firm." Navigator was the firm that helped former Ontario attorney general Michael Bryan in the Darcy Allan Sheppard case.
The Facebook statement smacks of a "crisis management" public relations move. It attempts to paint the incident as, at a time of great personal grief and loss, the CBC firing him for his tastes in the bedroom. Whether it was constructed with the help of a PR firm or not, it certainly appears to be working.
I am not by any means saying that Ghomeshi is guilty or that his statement is less than true, but it troubles me that people are willing to take his word for it, without feeling the need for any additional information.
Currently we do not know what, exactly, he is being accused of or by whom. We do not know what evidence there may be. We have not heard the CBC's side of things (and are now unlikely to until things reach the courts). We have not heard anything from the individual or individuals on the other side of this.
What we do know is that the CBC appeared, last week, to be willing to settle for Jian taking some "personal time" but, as of today, decided to sever ties altogether. We know that a reputable journalist and former CBC host has effectively staked his personal reputation on the case, whatever it may be, against Ghomeshi.
The CBC does not fire people, especially high profile people, easily or over rumours. They have lawyers, human resources and public relations professionals of their own and the organization doesn't have the resources for legally dodgy behaviour.
Again, I'm not saying that Ghomeshi is guilty, I'm not saying that he is innocent either. I am, however, unprepared to make any kind of judgement based on the tiny bit of information that is available. My primary concern isn't the public perception of CBC management, or Mr. Ghomeshi. I'm concerned about the possible victims.
If there is a woman who believes that she is the victim of a crime, coming forward into the spotlight with accusations against a high profile individual will be difficult enough. In the case of the late BBC host Jimmy Savile, none of the 450 alleged victims were willing to come forward until after his death. In the case of Australia's Rolf Harris it took more than 30 years for victims to come forward.
Being branded a 'jilted ex-girlfriend with an axe to grind' before we even know her name might be enough to make the young woman retreat before anyone has heard her side of the story.
If the CBC has indeed fired an employee for private behaviour in the bedroom then Ghomeshi deserves the entire 50 million dollar settlement and those who made the decision at the CBC should immediately resign. If, on the other hand, there is a legitimate victim of a crime who is driven into hiding because people like a radio host, it will be a great miscarriage of justice by the Canadian public.
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