Monday, July 23, 2007

Come on CBC... get it right

Oh I really hate being bombarded with negative and ignorant stereotypes about Down syndrome all the time. Whether it's an insensitive news item, or a wrong click on youtube, I'm always finding that I have to protect myself from stupid bigots and fools who just don't think before they speak. I hate feeling the need to fire off letters of complaint all the time. It really does happen so often. Why do people think it's OK to say nasty things about people who have Ds? Why are people so ignorant? Oh it makes me so cross.
I tried to ignore this yesterday and just put it in my (very large) box marked "ignore them they just didn't think", but it didn't work and now I've woken up at 3am and found myself writing a complaint to CBC News Sunday. Blooming heck:

Dear CBC News Sunday
As a regular viewer of your show, I was extremely disappointed by your show on Sunday 22 July. In particular, the item about mood disorders featuring an interview with a well known singer/song writer. The points made about mood disorder were very informative and enlightening, however the comparison to Down syndrome was both inappropriate and offensive.
During the program the interviewee compared mood disorder to Down syndrome, explaining that mood disorder was worse because people who had a mood disorder were aware of what they were doing - "unlike someone who had Down syndrome". The footage then cut straight to a clip in which somebody who had a mood disorder talked of eating their own excrement.
Down syndrome is a disability which affects cognitive function and is not a mental illness. People who have Down syndrome are well aware that they have this disability, and many are able to contribute full lives as part of the communities in which they live - working, volunteering, making friends and getting married. Generally, people who have Down syndrome are very skilled socially, and unless they had a mood disorder, would not exhibit anti-social behaviour as described in your piece. To imply that someone with Ds would eat their own excrement - however unintentionally this implication was made - is offensive in the extreme.
Most people who have Down syndrome are unable to make complaints of this kind and it is therefore all the more important that people who work in the media, especially news reporters, are accurate about their portrayal.
I would like to make an official complaint about this matter. I would also invite you to create a positive item about Down syndrome - exploring the ways in which the lives of people who have Ds have changed during the past twenty years. This interview with Anya Souza would be a good place to start: http://www.intellectualdisability.info/values/downs_as.html
I look forward to hearing from you about this matter.

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Here is their reply:
Subject: Your e-mail to CRTC - File nbr 354084 - CBC Sunday
Date: Tue, 07 Aug 2007 11:04:50 -0400

Dear Ms Evans,
Thank you for your email to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission regarding a story about mood disorders that aired on the program, CBC News: Sunday on July 22, 2007.
As you know, the CRTC has asked the CBC to respond to your concerns directly.
You wrote that you were offended by a comparison of mood disorders and Down syndrome made by singer Chantal Kreviazuk. Ms Kreviazuk was discussing a short film she wrote and starred in about mood disorders, called 'Pretty Broken.' I have reviewed your letter and the video tape of the interview. With respect, I believe Kreviazuk's intent in this comparison was different from your interpretation of it. First, it is important to note that Kreviazuk, in her attempt to explain her motivation for making this film, drew this comparison, not CBC. The interviews on CBC are not scripted, nor would we wish them to be; it is our responsibility to provide a platform for the expression of ideas, not to put words into the mouths of interview subjects. It is clear that you do not agree with Kreviazuk, but it is not a situation in which CBC was 'inaccurate' in this interview, as you have suggested.
In the interview, Kreviazuk explained that her inspiration for the film came from watching a close friend struggle with a mood disorder before committing suicide. When talking about this friend, she explained that he changed dramatically in the course of six months, to the point that he 'did not recognize himself', that he 'didn't know this guy'. She went on to explain that one of the most painful aspects of a mood disorder is the sufferer's awareness of how he or she has changed in personality. The despair stems from this self-awareness and the knowledge of an inability to resume their previous expected and accustomed mental state on their own. In describing this awareness of the change from an accustomed psychological state to an unwanted and unpredictable one, Kreviazuk said a mood disorder wasn't like Down syndrome, in that a mood disorder sufferer is cognizant of a dramatic change in their behaviour, which is often hurtful to friends and loved ones and which strips the sufferer of his dignity. Having watched the tape, we do not believe her intent was to suggest that people with Down syndrome are neither aware of their disability nor that they are unable to live independent and rich lives. Nor do we believe it was her intention to suggest that people with Down syndrome would engage in the types of anti-social behaviour that many people with mood disorders may act out. Rather, we believe her intention was to stress the sufferer's awareness of the "change" that occurs with a mood disorder.
Again, having reviewed the tape, it is apparent that Kreviazuk did not make her point terribly
clear, and her comparison may not have been as precise as another may have been, but again, this was how she chose at that time to express herself. We are sorry if you found it offensive. CBC welcomes all audience feedback about our programming; without it, we cannot remain
sensitive to the needs and wants of our viewers and listeners. All audience mail is summarized in a report that is circulated weekly among all senior executives, producers and programmers at CBC, including the President and CEO, Robert Rabinovitch.

Sincerely, Denis Andrychuk
Communications Officer
CBC Audience Relations

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and here is my response:

Dear Denis Andrychuk
Thank you for your response.
In a way, you have addressed the issues that I brought to your attention, but, I am still very unhappy about the comparison between Down syndrome and mood disorder - in particular:
" In describing this awareness of the change from an accustomed psychological state to an unwanted and unpredictable one, Kreviazuk said a mood disorder wasn't like Down syndrome, in that a mood disorder sufferer is cognizant of a dramatic change in their behaviour, which is often hurtful to friends and loved ones and which strips the sufferer of his dignity."
" Having watched the tape, we do not believe her intent was to suggest that people with Down syndrome are neither aware of their disability nor that they are unable to live independent and rich lives. Nor do we believe it was her intention to suggest that people with Down syndrome would engage in the types of anti-social behaviour that many people with mood disorders may act out"
However, I do think that she is implying that people with Down syndrome are unaware of the effect that their behaviour has on others and that they have no self-awareness. (Or, is she saying that they have no dignity to lose?)
People who have Down syndrome are PEOPLE and they are as individual as you and I.
The comparison made by Ms Kreviazuk is a personal opinion that is based on ignorance of Down syndrome, and prejudice. People who have Down syndrome are aware of their behaviour and are socially skilled. They are not oblivious to the affect that their moods or psychological states have on others. For CBC to provide a platform for these opinions is neglectful and supporting of an offensive stereotype.
In addition, although CBC is not responsible for what people in interviews say, you are responsible for the way in which they are edited. To directly follow such a statement, with an excerpt relating to a very extreme behaviour such as the eating of excrement, supports the previous stereotype.
If someone inadvertently made a racist statement during an interview I believe that you would edit the interview so that the racist statement was omitted and did not detract from the main point of the piece, or cause unnecessary offense to viewers. You would certainly not further inflame and offend by editing the interview so that it was even more incendiary. I ask that you apply the same standards to people who have cognitive disabilities.
I believe that this program negatively affected the human rights of people who have Down syndrome by providing a platform for a bigoted viewpoint and I do not believe that you have addressed this sufficiently in your response to me. I believe that you gave gravitas to an ignorant stereotype by broadcasting it without appropriate context. Further to this, I feel that the editing of the program by CBC further added to the negative stereotype that was suggested by the interviewee.

I look forward to hearing from you again.
Alice Evans

7 comments:

jotcr2 said...

Fair play to you for the letter. I've had to write something similar in the past. Its hard.

Anonymous said...

I am so glad I never saw this as just reading about it makes me so upset! Thank you so much Alice for writing to them about this.

Felecia

Alice said...

OK. I've made an official complaint to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Agency. I will let you know what they say.

Amy said...

You're my hero! Thank you, thank you! Congrats on the award.

Anonymous said...

Reading your letter to the CBC makes me realize we still have a huge task ahead of us, but it's comforting to know so many great people are willing to roll up their sleeves. Every effort we undertake to fight for equal rights will make our world a bit better.
Thanks for advocating on behalf of all people with special needs and thanks for doing it so well.
Oh, ps, thanks for the mentioning me for the blogger award, especially since I don't even have a blog.
Renate

Anonymous said...

I think that this issue with the CBC broadcast ties in with the article you posted about prenatal testing. The general perception among the pubic about Down syndrome derives largely from the media. When someone receives a prenatal diagnosis, should they make a decision based on impressions gained from the likes of the CBC broadcast? People tend to trust the media as being accurate, fair and unbiased, so I find it a bit troubling that this is what comes across. Good work on filing the complaint and following up on it.

Exceptional blog, by the way - I'm glad that Felecia left it open in the browser!

Michael

Nephesh said...

I am so angry. I didn't see nor hear of the CBC interview with Chantal Kreviazuk. However, it is clear reading the transcript, what the intention of comparison was being made.

Good for you on following through with the complaint!

I'll be interested in reading their responses.

Best of luck! Full support from our household!