Last week CBC News published a tasteless piece of “comedy” on their website. The video was made by Abdul Butt of the corporation’s comedy show This Hour Has 22 Minutes, chasing after Bill Cosby after he finished his show in Kitchener, Ontario, making fun of rape allegations made against the American comedian. Butt yelled out at Cosby “congratulations on your first show in 2015, way to start off with a bang- hope it was consensual this time Billy”. After couple of other comments, Butt looked into the camera saying to his audience, “Ahh, joke raped! Old Billy got joke raped”.
Though it’s hard to quantify without a national survey, one would hope that the majority of Canadians don’t see rape jokes as appropriate any longer. The CBC itself has covered many stories on the subject, and are not unfamiliar with how many people are disturbed when they see them. More importantly, Butt’s inept attempt at humour made the assumption that Cosby was guilty- before he had his opportunity for due process in the courts.
As Canada’s national broadcaster, paid for by taxpayer dollars, the CBC needs to be held to a higher standard than other broadcasters. Knowing this, and feeling deeply disturbed watching Butt betray our country’s social contract that a person is innocent until proven guilty, I filed an official complaint. The CBC’s response arrived in my inbox today- and it appears they’ve realized they’ve made a mistake.
As the video was posted on CBC New’s website, I sent my complaint to the CBC Ombudsman- the organization whose responsibility is to deal with complaints about the corporation’s news content. The Ombudsman’s office responded to me the same day saying that as This Hour Has 22 Minutes isn’t part of the news organization she’d be forwarding the complaint to Michelle Daly, the CBC’s Senior Director of Comedy.
Daly responded to me today with the following email:
Hello Mr. Renouf,
Thank you for your e-mail addressed to Esther Enkin, CBC Ombudsman drawing our attention to what you find to be an offensive clip on CBC.ca.
I sincerely appreciate hearing the considered views of a loyal CBC supporter. I can assure you we had no intention of offending you or any of our other viewers. The brief segment you saw was an unedited clip on a topical story of the day. We have taken steps to edit the clip to remove the offensive comments.
Humour often relies on exaggeration for its effect. In this instance with Mr. Cosby’s lack of comment on the allegations before him, comedian Abdul Butt, was hoping to elicit a response which could then be edited into a segment to be used on satirical show.
I fully appreciate that humour is a personal matter – what is funny to one person may not be funny at all to another – but I can assure you we intended no offense. To the extent you feel we failed, I offer my apologies.
My personal reaction is that Daly’s response tries too hard to deny responsibility- regardless of whether Cosby has publicly responded to the allegations, our national broadcaster should always err towards assuming someone is innocent before proven guilty. That said, Daly has promised to remove the “offensive comments”, so it’s clear the CBC can see that the comments they broadcasted were inappropriate. At the time I posted this article, they had yet to removed the comments- I will be watching closely to make sure they do.
Stay tuned for more formal complaints I’ll be making to the CBC- including biased commentary one reporter has made about anti-oil protests, and a CBC Aboriginal reporter who’s work has several startling issues with lack of disclosure- both about personal and financial relationships…