Tara Henley’s comments about the CBC exemplify how not to criticize journalism

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To maintain the integrity and accountability of Canadian journalism, criticism of media outlets is a must. Tara Henley’s accusations towards the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), however, are proof that not all criticism is productive.

On Jan. 3, journalist and author Tara Henley—having recently resigned from her position at the CBC—published a Substack post describing why she believes the institution has abandoned its journalistic integrity.

In her post, Henley alleges the CBC’s left-leaning “radical political agenda” has increased both the list of subjects “off the table” for coverage and the profiling of journalists and featured guests based on race.

The following week, host Jesse Brown from CANADALAND pressed Henley to clarify her accusations. In response, Henley backtracked on many of her statements and failed to provide concrete examples supporting her criticism.

It’s true the CBC is far from a perfect news source. Although the company does strive to cover stories reflecting Canadian reality and diversity, its newsroom is prone to experiencing political swings.

Journalism is going through a much needed reckoning right now, and the CBC has made small steps towards more equitable and thoughtful coverage.

The CBC can and should be criticized for its biases, but there’s a vital distinction between a political agenda and expanding diversity in the newsroom. More people of colour on staff and as guests naturally takes away some of the space afforded to traditionally privileged topics. Additionally, in tracking the racial identities of featured guests, CBC can better prevent the overwhelming whiteness that had plagued the institution.

These are good things.

Henley wrongly associates the CBC’s slowly growing focus on race and racialization with “woke” culture, stating that working at CBC means accepting “some races [as] more relevant to the public conversation than others.” In making this assertion, Henley incorrectly suggests that diversity is inherently political—but giving platform to racialized voices isn’t a bias.

Considering racialization in reporting doesn’t exclude perspectives from conversation, it shifts media coverage away from a default white bias. Henley can criticize CBC’s coverage of microaggressions because she has the privilege to consider her race as unimportant and to remain ignorant of the impact that race has on global events.

In her testimony, Henley says “to work at CBC in the current climate is to embrace cognitive dissonance.” But cognitive dissonance isn’t necessarily a bad thing—it can be the harbinger of change through learning and unlearning.

Achieving diversity in journalism will always involve contradicting discussions, deleting some old policies, and introducing new ones. The key is to be openminded and adapt to these changes—not to run away from them.

Henley’s vague complaints about the CBC were far from productive. Instead of instigating meaningful dialogue about the many ways the CBC could improve its coverage, she only devalued marginalized voices.

Race doesn’t add bias to a story—it adds understanding. Henley and her supporters should know this by now.

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