Sunday, March 30, 2008

On the Alleged Blocking of Comments at CBC In-House Blogs

Among the many comments I've been receiving, here is one that raises an important question:

Thank you, everyone, for your support of the CBC Radio Orchestra and its role in Canadian culture. Be aware that censorship is going on at the site. CBC Executive Mark Steinmetz has been known to block "too controversial" comments.

Make your comments known but watch out for the government censor!

Everywhere, Canada

Before I respond to the censorship accusations above, here is my own comment-blocking policy on the Collaborative Piano Blog.

1. Duplicate comments. Often Blogger experiences posting hiccups and stalls when comments are submitted. The commenter then resubmits and I have two comments to moderate.
2. Spammy comments. Often internet marketers spam the comments of high-traffic blogs in order to get hits to their sites. That's why many bloggers moderate their comments.
3. Individuals that beg for links. I prefer comments on my site to advance the conversation forward rather than be merely random plugs for other websites. If a comment is a request for a link (except in posts where I happen to be putting out a request for new classical music blog url's, for example) I'll generally delete it.
4. Vicious accusations against individuals or companies. I won't post comments that deal with outrageous comments about others.

I almost always post negative comments about myself and my writing, as I feel it makes for a better blog and a better viewpoint on the subjects I write about.

One might argue that the quoted comment above might fall within the fourth category and I should have deleted it since the comment-shredding is still only alleged, but I think that the matter at hand (the CBC Radio Orchestra affair) is important enough that the comment warrants both reposting and a full-length response from myself.

The blog in question, Inside the CBC, is in fact the "official blog of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation". It is written by freelance radio producer Tod Maffin, and by his own admission (see his about page), treads the fine line between in-house employee blog and public blog. As is the case with corporate blogs, Inside the CBC may be subject to some sort of in-house censorship in order for the company (the CBC) to present a unified public image.

Here's the part that many people will disagree with:

Inside the CBC has every right to censor comments they feel are inappropriate.

Think of newspapers--they have to pick and choose which letters to the editor they decide to print in the next day's edition. But, since they usually receive more letters than they have room to print, they need to choose which ones they use.

The blogging medium has changed all that, with commenting systems offering almost unlimited space for blog readers to post their comments. However, the fact of the matter is that owners of a publication, whether it be newspaper, magazine, e-zine, or blog, have every right to pick and choose which submitted comments are circulated.

On the other hand, as a public corporation of one of the most vibrant democracies on the planet, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation may have an ethical and democratic responsibility to maintain the freedom of speech on its in-house organs in order to reflect the views of the taxpayers that fund the public corporation.

But although I respectfully disagree with Tod's opinions on the disbanding of the CBC Radio Orchestra, as a fellow blogger I fully support Tod's responsibility towards being both a blogger and a public employee and the right to run his blog as he sees fit.

If you want to read further on the rights of bloggers, take a look at the Electronic Frontier Foundation's resources on Bloggers' Rights.

With the public hue and cry arising from the disbanding of the CBC Radio Orchestra, I would encourage those that wish to get the word out to use more vehicles than just blog comments to make their voice heard. These tools include starting their own blogs, using Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook groups, or publishing their own websites. We have both freedom of speech and the technology that allows the dissemination of information to an unprecedented extent. Let's use it!


  1. I will give you that this was an intelligent and worthwhile post.
    And now I'll give you some comments ...

    You say that the CBC enterprise "may have an ethical and democratic responsibility to maintain the freedom of speech".
    MAY have?
    Not sure?

    You say "I fully support Tod's responsibility towards being both a blogger and a public employee and the right to run his blog as he sees fit."
    But since when did an "Official" blog of the CBC become HIS blog?
    That Tod is confused about his rights and responsibilities is not surprising, but for the CBC to allow this kind of willy-nilly censoring is an abdication of their responsibilities.

    And did I see you write that censoring at insidecbc is "alleged"?
    Are you new around here?
    Deleting perfectly valid comments, even from a television producer (DonYoung) is making the world a lot phonier instead of real.
    Tod is both inconsistent and petty in the way he controls the comments, and now they're being cut off after seven days.
    How can you justify anything that goes on there. It's despicable.

    You suggest that Tod Maffin is fully qualified and mature enough to judge what is an "inappropriate" comment. You really must be new around here.
    Tod is practicing his other career in public relations, mostly promoting himself as a self-proclaimed "expert", yet it all comes down to manipulation.
    So what you read in his comments, whether at his own blog or that supposedly belonging to the CBC, is not at all a reflection of public thought.
    Is that the kind of news and opinion that you prefer?
    It's fake, and yet you seem to think that's ok.

    How is it that a public corporation can have an "official" blog, yet have that blog owned by a freelance worker/private citizen? Does that make sense to you?

    Tod steals his material from other sources and doesn't credit those sources.

    Tod likes to pretend that he's free to say whatever he wants at insidecbc, yet he's already had to retract and self-censor and be told to change his copy several times by CBC brass.
    Are you deliberately ignoring these obvious facts?

    Another of your complaints is about people linking to their own blogs when they post a comment.
    Is it the end of the world if someone draws attention to their own work?
    Are you afraid of competition?
    Seems to me like petty jealousy. So insecure that you want to avoid anyone knowing that there are other blogs out there besides the ones you approve of.

    Tod has no hesitation in allowing himself to link to his own commercial site whenever he wants a plug at insidecbc.
    Did you miss the post where he wants companies to contact him privately when they want to do business with the CBC's technology columnist?
    Did you miss where he directs them to send products for review to his home address, away from the prying eyes of his superiors?

    So what were you saying again about "ethical"?

    You close with - "technology that allows the dissemination of information to an unprecedented extent"
    Apparently not if you and Tod can help it.
    Then - "Let's use it!".
    In Tod's case, it's more like "Let's abuse it!"

  2. Thanks for the great comment, Allan!

    Here's my response, some of which you may not like...

    Where Tod Maffin's personal blog ends and the CBC's official one ends is their business, and is a common issue in the world of corporate blogging. Articles need to be written by people, and writers in this position need to figure out where they stand vis a vis being an individual writer vs. company mouthpiece. (Personally, I'm much more comfortable being an independent writer)

    Unless you can take a time-lapse snapshot of the Inside the CBC blog proving that comments disappear, the censorship is only at the stage of being alleged.

    Regarding my own comment policy, if people advance the conversation forward, that's great. If they beg for links to shady sites in completely unrelated fields, that is comment spam. Here's the Wikipedia article on the subject:

    Most blogging platforms allow bloggers free rein over which comments they accept and which they decline. Of course, if you decline too many, you certainly won't make too many friends but scare away potential readers.

    Here is an example of a comment that I would decline:

    "Exelent posting. Do yu nnot think that u might want to try out thes nice sit for free H%%dia samplez at (address of fraudulent site)."

    And I've got some comment spam doozies. Accepting that kind of junk comment devalues my blog.

    As for being insecure about my competitors--have you seen the magnitude of outgoing links there are from my site? My reputation rests on being able to find the best material in my niche and having others to link to only helps to build a stronger community.

    Once again, Allan, thanks for the comment.

    And if you want to read up more on the considerably vocal comment policy debate, here is a tinyurl link that leads to a great guest post by Elise Bauer on Problogger:

  3. WEll, thank YOU, for allowing my comment to see the light of page.
    That's another good sign at such a promising blog.

    As it happens, I do have time lapse.
    Shall I send you screen shots?
    You also won't find Tod denying it.
    Censorship at insidecbc is a well-known fact.

    I support your efforts to delete and protect yourself from junk comments.
    What takes place at insidecbc is far more sinister than taking out the garbage.

    I can give you an example, the most recent for me. After making his little pathetic crack at a future movie about Don Cherry ...

    "Sadly, it will likely be one of the most-watched programs of the year"

    I submitted a comment ...

    "Sadly? Did you say "sadly"?
    Insulting your own programs before they even start.
    And you work for the CBC?"

    Comment not allowed.

    I submitted another ...

    "Wasn’t Don Cherry voted one of the 10 Greatest Canadians?
    Seems insidecbc has another opinion."

    Comment allowed.

    You learn pretty fast that praise for Tod is always welcome. Criticism not allowed.
    To the simpleton passerby reader, Tod comes off looking pretty good.
    And that's really the name of that game.

    Tod also claims that the CBC doesn't get to interfere with what the reader sees.
    That may have been true an hour ago before management forced him to retract his statements permanently and change a headline. And yes, I have the original pages and the subsequently altered pages to send you if you need them.

    Tod further suggests that he would think twice before removing anything from his blog if the CBC demanded it.
    What do you think?

    As good as Tod is at some things, his pretensions are absurd, and his ethics reprehensible.

  4. Allan, if you have the time-lapse screen shots of comments being deleted, by all means post them on one of your blogs and let people know the facts.

  5. A gentleman and a scholar.

  6. Hey, thanks for the post!

    I thought I'd clarify some of the points you and Allan have raised.

    First, I haven't deleted **a single comment** because of its content or that it disagrees with the CBC. ( was an idea that *I* pitched to the Corp, specifically to give people a place to raise their concerns.)

    Provided the comments aren't off-topic, contain content or links to defamatory/personal attacks, or otherwise fall outside the liberal (small-L, people!! {grin} ) comments policy, they're approved. Hell, I post stuff that CBC executives don't like all the time!

    Here are just a few links to posts I've written in the last three weeks which senior management CLEARLY would rather not exist:

    Never once (despite my friend Allan's claim) have I been told to remove anything by management. Have I changed headlines and content? Yes. Did I do so secretly because management told me to? Not a chance.

    You mention the CBC orchestra posting specifically. I think you'll find if you go through the blog that not only did I go to their protest and cover it (posting the content within 15 minutes of it ending), I've also been quite active in the "anti-CBC" groups on Facebook, trying to help give people a way of reaching CBC senior management.

    Hell, even Allan thought I did a good job, saying "Great that you covered this, Tod. Good work" in the comments. :-)

    But Allan's claim that I don't approve his comments are just inaccurate. The moderators, including myself, have approved more than 150 of his comments -- MANY of which personally criticize me and my handling of the blog.

    Here's just a sampling of the comments Allan has posted which have been approved, and exist today, on the blog:

    -- "Why is there no credit for the reporter you got this story and all the facts from?" (In fact, the source was quoted.)

    -- "Wasn't Don Cherry voted one of the 10 Greatest Canadians? Seems insidecbc has another opinion."

    -- "Great response to the cynicism, Ms. Andres. I'll venture that Tod would be more supportive and less inclined to call it spam if you would simply mention him as often as possible, as cait indicated at the start of these comments."

    -- "That's neat how you're allowed to take content from internal-only documents, and hold it up for ridicule."

    -- "You certainly like to direct how other people should talk. This is the second time I've noticed you going off on this irrelevant complaint."

    -- "I don't really get why this long post is here on a CBC website.
    Doesn't the CMG have a website of it's own that it can use to talk to it's members? Why should the CBC be doing it's work for them?"

    -- "So you'd like to think that Canadians are more discerning? What an absurd remark."

    This is only what I found in the first three pages of Allan's comments. There are 14 pages in total.

    (Allan is secretly in love with me, though, so he'll spend a great deal of time replying to this. It's awesome. :-)

    You wrote:

    > Inside The CBC... treads the fine
    > line between in-house employee
    > blog and public blog.

    Yep. Officially, the blog's PRIMARY audience is CBC employees. But there's plenty of crossover, of course. What CBC fans/haters are interested in, is also likely of interest to employees.

    > As is the case with corporate
    > blogs, Inside the CBC may be
    > subject to some sort of in-house
    > censorship in order for the
    > company (the CBC) to present a
    > unified public image.

    Nope. I choose what to post. Period. CBC management and producers, of course, "pitch" me on things they'd like to see, but it's always up to me whether to post them or not.

    See for more information about the editorial policy.

    > the Canadian
    > Broadcasting Corporation may have
    > an ethical and democratic
    > responsibility to maintain the
    > freedom of speech on its in-house
    > organs in order to reflect the
    > views of the taxpayers that fund
    > the public corporation.

    Totally! I absolutely agree! That's why I convinced the CBC to do the blog in the first place. Anyone who knows me personally knows I'm VERY passionate about the CBC, and that includes pointing out areas we can improve as much as promoting shows.

    In fact, during the 2005 lockout, I ran a blog about the CBC which was often critical of the Corporation's decisions.

    At the risk of sounding like Pollyanna, I genuinely believe in the mandate of the CBC. It's why I have chosen to work there. That doesn't mean I agree with everything the CBC is doing (cancelling prime-time TV shows after just a single season, for instance).

    What I *DO* believe in is helping the CBC providing another outlet for talking to Canadians about what we do, how we can improve, and why we're in this in the first place.


  7. Oops... forgot to add, in response to the comment you quoted:

    > CBC Executive Mark Steinmetz has
    > been known to block too
    > controversial" comments.

    I manage the moderators list on the blog.

    Steinmetz doesn't have access to the blog.

    He can't block nor approve any comments.

  8. Thanks for the comments, Tod! Although I respectfully disagree with your opinions on a few matters of where the CBC should put its money, I appreciate the discourse you are creating and the bridges you are building between the CBC and the Canadian public.