CBC report links Host Culture to litany of bad behaviour by former broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has released lawyers Janice Rubin and Parisa Nikfarjan's workplace investigation regarding fired broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi. And it chronicles extensive inappropriate conduct by the former host of the CBC Radio Q program, which was repeatedly overlooked by management.
Rubin and Nikfarjam cite CBC's "Host Culture", which has traditionally given on-air talent wider latitude to act in an egotistical manner at work, as a contributing factor behind Ghomeshi's behaviour.
The partially redacted report's release comes as the CBC has announced that it has cut ties with the executive director of CBC Radio, Chris Boyce, and the broadcaster's head of human resources, Todd Spencer.
Ghomeshi was fired in late October. He claimed at the time that it was because information would come out regarding his interest in consensual bondage and domination.
Subsequently, nine women stepped forward to tell the media about how they were mistreated by Ghomeshi and that it wasn't consensual. In late November, the former broadcaster was charged with four counts of sexual assault and one count of choking. Ghomeshi has pleaded not guilty.
Boyce and Spencer were placed on indefinite leave in January, a few days before Ghomeshi was scheduled to return to court.
The investigators state that they interviewed 99 people, who are referred to in the report as "witnesses". Ghomeshi declined to be interviewed for the report. In addition, 16 others refused to speak to Rubin and Nikfarjam.
Some of the most heavily redacted sections concern comments about Ghomeshi's behaviour. The report states evidence was found that:
• Mr. Ghomeshi was persistently late and consistently disrespectful of colleagues' time.
• Mr. Ghomeshi would ignore colleagues for short or lengthy periods of time if they had done something that displeased him.
• Mr. Ghomeshi was moody, difficult and emotionally unpredictable.
• Mr. Ghomeshi yelled and doled out harsh criticism.
• Mr. Ghomeshi made requests of a personal nature of several colleagues that fell outside of these colleagues' job duties.
• Mr. Ghomeshi diminished the role and contribution of colleagues by not attributing credit to them for their work.
• Mr. Ghomeshi made comments about the appearance of some colleagues. These comments were described as demeaning, inappropriate and unwanted...
• Mr. Ghomeshi played pranks and cruel jokes....[redacted] made them feel embarrassed, anxious, or upset.
• Mr. Ghomeshi gave a number of colleagues back and shoulder massages. Most of the witnesses did not find these massages sexual (although several did), but instead described them as "creepy" and disrespectful of their personal boundaries.
• Mr. Ghomeshi's behaviour on the whole created a stressful and "dysfunctional" environment.
In addition, they write that Ghomeshi "was overly familiar with a number of female employees and gave them back rubs and massages".
"On a few occasions, Mr. Ghomeshi solicited women in the workplace for dates and/or personal contact," the lawyers state in the report. "Mr. Ghomeshi flirted with a number of women present in the workplace, including on air guests."
He also "shared details about his own sex life", including incidents that witnesses "found too personal, too graphic, and generally unsavoury".
"We found evidence that this was not only directed at women but at a certain number of men who were also the inadvertent recipients of 'too much information' from Mr. Ghomeshi about his private live and sexual activities," they write.
Ghomeshi had a personal relationship with a coworker in a junior position who didn't have permanent status with the CBC, according to the report. The witnesses believed that it was consensual and the coworker refused to be interviewed.
"In some cases, managers with whom Mr. Ghomeshi was directly involved had an inclination that something was wrong, and failed to inquire any further or failed to take adequate steps to stop the behaviour," Rubin and Nikfarjam write. "In other cases, despite actual knowledge of concerns expressed by employees, Mr. Ghomeshi's behaviour was often left unexamined, characterized as 'difficult' or was accepted as the norm of how hosts were expected to behave. The evidence shows that while Mr. Ghomeshi's star was allowed to rise, his problematic behaviour was left unchecked."
In the summer of 2012, Q staffers prepared a "Red Sky Document", which set out issues of concern in a professional and respectful way. Rubin and Nikfarjam conclude that this document "was clearly a workplace complaint", even though it wasn't presented under the requirements of the collective agreement.
They characterized management's response as a "missed opportunity".
Another "missed opportunity" came after an emailed allegation of Ghomeshi behaving inappropriately came from a journalist in the summer of 2014. The journalist is not identified, though Toronto media critic Jesse Brown has revealed that he contacted management with concerns about Ghomeshi last year.
Brown cowrote a blistering Toronto Star exposé on Ghomeshi shortly after he was fired as host of Q.
The third opportunity came in a communication from a male staff member, who had asked that Ghomeshi respect his personal space, not put him in an uncomfortable or compromising situation, and not to embarrass or belittle him.
"Surely the use of this language indicated that there was behaviour in the workplace that was deeply at odds with the Behavioural Standard," the lawyers state. "Once again, management was put on notice that something was profoundly off in the Q workplace."
There's also a section in the report about "Host Culture" at the CBC.
"First, it consists of a belief that people who occupy the role of an on air host inevitably have big personalities, big egos, and big demands. Witnesses described hosts as 'different beasts' given the public-facing nature of their role."
In addition, they write, "because this personality type is considered necessary for the job, certain host behaviour was generally tolerated despite the feeling that their egos and behaviours were problematic as there is general fear to stand up to the talent".
"One senior manager said 'there tends to be a belief that bad behaviour is excused by results'," Rubin and Nikfarjam write.
Ghomeshi's conduct is described in the report as being "on the extreme end of the spectrum" of Host Culture.
"We believe that the existence of Host Culture had a number of notable effects in the case at hand," they state. "It was the lens through which Mr. Ghomeshi's behaviour was viewed."
At best, they say, it prevented managers from differentiating between Ghomeshi's conduct and the corporation's behavioural standard.
"At worst, it meant there was a belief that as a host, Mr. Ghomeshi was somehow exempt from the Behavioural Standard. As a host, and as a star, his behaviour would simply need to be tolerated."
Rubin and Nikfarjam also conclude in the report that no one "had clear and consistent authority over Mr. Ghomeshi on a day-to-day basis in the workplace". This was because of a "flaw" in how the Q workplace was designed because all the employees, including the host, belonged to the same bargaining unit.
In an interview with the CBC fifth estate last year, Boyce denied a claim by Ghomeshi that corporate managers strategized with his team to contain damage from the looming scandal.
"Jian had always characterized this to us that embarrassing information about his personal life was going to come out," Boyce told the fifth estate. "He was always unequivocal that he had crossed no moral line, no ethical line, that he was innocent. And we were trying to figure out how we would deal with a situation where potentially damaging information about a high-profile CBC personality would come out in the media."
The fifth estate's Gillian Findlay asked Boyce why he assumed that Ghomeshi was telling the truth.
Boyce said he had no reason not to believe him.
"He looked into my eyes, he said he had done a lot of soul-searching—and he looked into my eyes—and he said 'I have not crossed any ethical or legal line'," Boyce said.
The report carries nine recommendations, including reviewing and clarifying policies with the Canadian Media Guild setting out "the behavioural standard". This review should offer a "definition of the workplace" that outlines what constitutes a "poisoned work environment".
In addition, the report states that the CBC should consider determining when consensual relationships at work are permissible, when they must be disclosed, and "when they create a conflict of interest by virtue of a power and status imbalance between the parties".
Rubin and Nikfarjam also recommend spot audits by a third-party organization and developing "a comprehensive employee survey relating to workplace culture and respect in the workplace that is designed to maximize employee participation".
"More specifically, the survey should gather information about the extent of harassment, discrimination, violence, and disrespectful conduct in the workplace," they write.
In addition, they call for a confidential workplace hotline, refreshing workplace data-keeping, establishing a "respect at work and human rights ombudsperson", and examining the role of executive producers.
The other two recommendations concern establishing a task force with the union to address young people in the organization and to include "respect at work competencies" at every stage in the employment relationship.
Apr 16, 2015 at 7:04pm
you know what another "missed opportunity" is? The fact that this article came out the same day so many CBC EMPLOYEES were let go. This article could have been posted in a few days, but it wasn't and does a disservice to those who's jobs are now redundant. Very tacky. This will be the focus instead of the families that now have to figure it all out. That should be the real story here.
Barry William Teske
Apr 17, 2015 at 12:09am
New show name:
Canada Gets PR'd 2 Death.
Yeah I know its kind of winded but so is the stupidity of this entire fiasco.
Any best selling books out yet?
out at night
Apr 17, 2015 at 11:41am
CBC has been much too in thrall to big fish. Stories from days gone by support this assertion, like building a special room for Peter Gzowski to smoke in after Toronto went smoke free.
Apr 18, 2015 at 9:50am
Perhaps the question should not only be about the lapse of a safe workplace for the CBC staff - but a safe culture for all in the CBC signal ... How & why was this Goomessy creep allowed on the air in the first place?