CBC/Radio-Canada apologizes for using N-word, but says CRTC ‘overstepped’ authority

CBC/Radio-Canada has apologized for the repeated use of the N-word on a Radio-Canada program in 2020, but will appeal a CRTC decision linked to the segment, saying the regulator has overstepped its authority.

“We consider that the CRTC has overstepped its authority with respect to the independence of the public broadcaster,” it said in a statement.

“Its decision of June 29 poses a threat, because the Commission has attempted to give itself the power to interfere with journalistic independence.

“That was a serious error. We simply do not accept the CRTC’s interference in journalism in Canada.”

The statement comes after the CRTC ordered the public broadcaster last month to apologize in writing for the use of the N-word on its airwaves.

The use of the word happened during an on-air discussion on Aug. 17, 2020, about a petition that demanded the firing of a Concordia University professor who had quoted the title of a famous book from Pierre Vallières that features the N-word.  A journalist and a commentator repeated the offensive word several times during that 2020 discussion.

That sparked a complaint to the CRTC from a Black Montreal resident.

The CRTC then ruled that Radio-Canada did not implement all the necessary measures to mitigate the impact of the N-word on its audience. It further said the broadcast of the program segment “did not provide high-standard programming and did not contribute to the strengthening of the cultural and social fabric and the reflection of the multicultural and multiracial nature of Canada.”

In its statement Wednesday, CBC/Radio-Canada said the regulator’s own dissenting opinions noted that it does not have the authority or jurisdiction to make such a decision.

“We must appeal the CRTC’s jurisdiction on matters that should rest with our news leaders. Journalistic independence is vital to all of us,” the statement said.

CBC/Radio-Canada acknowledged that while the N-word was used in a journalistic context, it was hurtful to some audience members and employees.

“Some of our journalists have expressed the view that this is solely an issue of free speech, but we all know that words can wound and need to be used with care. That is why we will apologize to the listener who filed a complaint,” the statement said.

“The use of this word is hurtful to many in our audience and to our own employees and for that, we are deeply sorry.”

It said it was also adding a warning to the program where it appears online to prepare listeners. As well, Radio-Canada will be launching an internal review to examine its policies and standards regarding language that can be hurtful.

“We do these things because we believe it is the right thing to do, not because the CRTC tells us to,” the statement said.

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