CBC’s host-centric culture protected Ghomeshi for too long

 Photo from abacusengine - http://bit.ly/1yKIaWv

Photo from abacusengine - http://bit.ly/1yKIaWv

The public has gotten a rare glimpse into a host-centric culture that led to a cover-up mentality from management at our national public broadcaster. 

The more we learn about how our national public broadcaster handled the Jian Ghomeshi affair, the more we are left questioning just what type of an operation the Board and CEO of CBC are running.

After months of management denial and/or silence about a cover-up mentality at the CBC, and rumors of larger systemic issues regarding the CBC’s approach to workplace culture, a report by external investigator Janice Rubin has finally shed some light on what was going on at Q and with CBC management–both before this scandal occurred and as it unfolded.

The report does not paint a pretty picture of either the Canadian Media Guild, who represents CBC employees, nor of many of the producers at Q. Yet the most damning information is saved for the CBC management.

The report outlined complaints from CBC employees ranging from bring harassed and abused in the workplace, to Ghomeshi giving co-workers massages and even allegations of sexual harassment.   

CBC is a Host-Centric Culture

For their report, investigators reached out to former and current CBC employees who worked with Ghomeshi to talk about their experiences and Ghomeshi’s conduct. Though not contained in its original mandate, the report also looked into what management knew about these allegations against Ghomeshi and what they did about it. 

What becomes clear when reading the report is that while Ghomeshi still hosted Q, the CBC was not interested in hearing any co-worker allegations against one of their biggest stars. The report outlines the existence of a “Host Culture” within the CBC that allowed–even encouraged–CBC personalities to be eccentric and, if the host was successful, would forgive or excuse bad behaviour on the part of a host.

No workplace can maintain a healthy and positive culture when one group of employees play by one set of rules and another group play by their own rules.

The report states that this host-centric culture had an impact on how Ghomeshi was treated by his managers, which made his co-workers “less assertive in terms of pursuing their complaints.”

Management Failure

As is often the case with toxic workplace cultures, the actions (or to be more precise inaction) of the CBC’s management was a major contributing factor in what would become the Ghomeshi scandal.

“To put it plainly, we saw no compelling evidence that Mr. Ghomeshi was ever told his behaviour would have to improve, or he would have to refrain from certain types of behaviour, or else face disciplinary action including termination. As a result, it is our view that management did not enforce the Behavioural Standard,” reads the report.

“…Employees who voiced their concerns about the treatment they experienced at the hands of Mr. Ghomeshi were told to work around him, or solve the problem themselves,” the report continued. “To the extent that there was management intervention, it was limited and ultimately ineffective at dealing with the central issue: that is that Mr. Ghomeshi’s treatment of and conduct towards those with whom he worked was deeply problematic.”

Claiming ignorance of bad behaviour within their workplace is no excuse. The management at the CBC, as well as the employees’ union, have a responsibility to protect staff proactively as well as when complaints are filed–they fell well short of meeting this obligation.

The CBC has also ‘severed ties’ with two top managers, Chris Boyce, former executive director of CBC Radio, and Todd Spencer, the former head of human resources and industrial relations for English services at the CBC. This was likely in response to the damming findings about CBC management in the report. 

Recommendations for Change

In addition to outlining the complaints against Ghomeshi and the CBC, the report also made recommendations to prevent similar issues from arising in the future. 

Among the litany of recommendations contained in the report were many common sense best practices, the type you would expect to already be in place at any modern workplace.

In a conference call with reporters, CBC president Hubert Lacroix and Heather Conway, executive vice-president of English Services, called the report “troubling” and said that they are “confident we can do better.” The Canadian Media Guild for their part said Thursday they have already developed a new protocol for dealing with workplace harassment. 

But what is ironic about these recommendations is that a fairly strong workplace Code of Conduct was already in place at the CBC that clearly prohibits the type of behaviour Ghomeshi exhibited. 

The code states that: “…Employees shall respect human dignity and the value of every person by: treating every person with respect and fairness,” and by “helping to create and maintain safe and healthy workplaces that are free from harassment and discrimination.”

Furthermore the Code stated that it applied to every employee regardless of level or position within the CBC, in fact “…Employees who are also managers are in a position of particular influence and authority that gives them a particular responsibility to exemplify the values contained in this Code.”

What does all this mean? Well, it means the rules you have about workplace culture aren’t worth the paper they’re written on if they are not enforced.

Even if implemented, these recommendations will be useless if there isn’t a substantive change in the attitude of management at the CBC. The CBC must not only apply these recommendations in the report fully, but challenge themselves to really change–and that starts from the top down.

Because, unless this host-centric culture is dealt with, no amount of reports, recommendations or executive turnover will be able to save the CBC in the eyes of the public when the next Ghomeshi is caught spoiling the workplace.