First Nations chiefs say comments on CBC website a forum for hate

First Nations leaders in Manitoba are accusing the CBC of providing a forum for the expression of hatred on its website.

First Nations leaders in Manitoba are accusing the CBC of providing a forum for the expression of hatred on its website.

At a news conference Wednesday, the Southern Chiefs Organization asked Manitoba's Justice Department to investigate the CBC's Manitoba website.

The organization has been monitoring the websites of some of the major news outlets in the province for the past year and said it had found dozens of reader comments posted about news stories on the CBC that referred to aboriginal people as drunks, criminals or lazy. 

"The world will always have racists and kooks and people who just don't know what they are talking about. But the CBC, by not enforcing its own policies, has provided them with a forum they can use to attack our people," Chief Morris Swan-Shannacappo said.

He said many of the comments he complained to CBC about were eventually removed, but he said it often took hours for the post to be taken down because the website relies on the public to draw attention to objectionable comments.

"Comments that should have never appeared have been posted again and again. These postings cannot be dismissed and they are certainly not accidental or unavoidable. CBC has provided a forum that allows for that expression of hatred," Swan-Shannacappo said.

He said the CBC is violating its own policy by allowing such comments to be posted.

MLA Steve Ashton, the province's acting attorney general, said his government supports the chiefs in their efforts to have the matter investigated. But he questioned whether the province has the jurisdiction to look into the complaint because the CBC is a Crown corporation.

In an eight-page news release issued Wednesday, the Southern Chiefs Organization documented many of the postings it found offensive, including comments related to the deaths of a child in a house fire, the deaths of a young aboriginal teen and several stories about First Nations involvement in land or development deals.

Hateful comments are made "under the anonymous cloak of a pseudonym or alias," the organization said in the release.

The CBC sets guidelines for posters, and advises them to remain civil and refrain from offensive or racist remarks.

The comments are moderated by an outside company, based in Manitoba. CBC gets more than 200,000 comments from readers a month and more than 10,000 comments a day when there is a contentious issue in the news.

A CBC spokesman said the corporation is working with the Southern Chiefs Organization in response to the complaints.

"What we said … was that having a comment section that sets up a forum providing, as we do, as free as possible exchange of views on any subject matter, brings with it risks," said Jeff Keay, head of media relations for the CBC.

"That said, we can probably do a better job of monitoring. It's something we're looking at doing."

There is a mechanism in place where people can report abuse and guidelines are in place to discourage unacceptable comments, but that doesn't mean objectionable postings won't still appear, Keay said.

"There is a lot of grey area on what is acceptable. There are certain subjects where that line gets crossed," he said.

Along with aboriginal issues, news items related to subjects such as abortion and the Middle East also provoke commentary by readers that falls into these grey areas, Keay said.

But Keay said CBC is reviewing its practices around commentary and considering everything from stricter guidelines on what is considered acceptable to preventing comments from being posted on some news stories.

"This is kind of a new world — all news organizations are struggling with this," he said.