As It Happens

Ryan McMahon on CBC decision to close comments on indigenous stories

CBC's acting director of digital news, Brodie Fenlon: "We've noticed over many months that these stories draw a disproportionate number of comments that cross the line and violate our guidelines."
Anishnaabe comedian Ryan McMahon says the decision is "a good start." (Ryan McMahon )

On Monday, CBC News announced that the comments sections on all CBC News stories that relate to indigenous peoples will be closed.

In a blog post called "Uncivil Dialogue," the acting director of digital news, Brodie Fenlon, explains that indigenous-related stories were receiving higher-than-average numbers of hateful, vitriolic comments. Comments sections on these stories will be closed while CBC News looks for a solution to the problem. 

Fenlon points to the federal election as one reason why the volume of hateful comments has gone up. He says other groups have also brought out offensive remarks. For example, stories about refugees and Muslims.

"But, in terms of indigenous [peoples], it was a higher level," Fenlon tells CBC host Carol Off.

The CBC's Aboriginal Unit has been pushing for the change for months

Ryan McMahon is an Anishinaabe comedian who has hosted specials on CBC Radio One and CBC Television. He also spoke to As It Happens about some of the comments he's seen on webposts about his own work. Here is part of their conversation:

Ryan McMahon: There always seems to be a nagging, almost thunderous voice of racist and hateful comments directed at either myself, or also towards the CBC for hosting what's often called "Indian Propaganda."

Carol Off: What did CBC News do, and what should it have done? 

RM: I don't quite have all of the answers. In many of the cases, whether it's a story related to a murdered or missing indigenous woman or these types of stories, we owe it to the public to shut down these general types of conversation when at the end of the day, we're talking about tragedies in the news. The step they took today is a good start, and I'm glad they're giving themselves some time to step back and look at the problem, and maybe find a solution once and for all. 

CO: I don't want to repeat the comments I've seen... I know you've had even death threats in the ones you've seen... can you just characterize it, without going into details?

RM: It's just a violent undertone, if it's not a physically violent undertone, then it's violent language. At the end of the day, that violence online is real. Often our youth and our women and our two-spirited community are the ones who face the brunt of this violence. 

CO: Why do you think that as news agencies attempt to improve how they cover and what they cover of indigenous communities, it seems to create this backlash? 

RM: The more visible and vocal indigenous peoples are in this country, the louder the racism gets, and there's no coincidence there. If you really want to find out what the temperature is in a small town, or a big city, stop traffic at rush hour and try to have your voice heard through a peaceful protest, and you'll find out just how racist this country is. 


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

To hear the full interview please select the Listen audio link above.