Cabin Radio was sent a legal warning last week to scrub its website and social media sites of ‘defamatory’ third-party comments and issue an apology to Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn following coverage of the embattled elected official.
Steven Cooper, lawyer with Cooper Regel, sent the news company a two-page letter on June 24 on behalf of Norn, stating that Cabin Radio has not done enough to address racist comments on articles uploaded to the internet.
“As a public broadcaster operating under the authority of the CRTC, you have certain obligations related to public pronouncements made by you and vicariously through your website,” Cooper said. “More generally, under the law, you have obligations not to allow racist, discriminatory or hate postings to endure on any social media under your control,” Cooper wrote.
Earlier this month, CBC News turned off the comment section associated with its stories because many of the messages have been abusive toward journalists and writers.
Norn’s lawyer alluded to this move in his letter.
“This is an appropriate measure to ensure that unlawful, defamatory, and other undesirable postings are not permitted to exist on the part of the internet under your control,” he said.
Cooper alleges that Norn, as an elected person of Indigenous ethnicity, has been treated unfairly and in a discriminatory fashion in Cabin Radio’s media coverage.
“We are of the view that our client, as an Indigenous public figure, is being treated differently than were he non-indigenous,” he said. “Racially generated pejorative statements are being permitted to be generated by members of the public either under their own name, anonymously or by the use of pseudonyms.”
According to the letter, Norn directed Cooper to issue the news company “one warning” to remove racist content from the website or other social media “whether explicitly or implicitly, derogatory against our client, defamatory or otherwise prohibited by law.
“Moving forward you must either not permit comments on your postings or immediately remove offensive comments by third parties,” Cooper said.
Norn is also calling for the radio station to apologize to him “distributed through media as will be discussed between our office and either your office or through your counsel as you see fit.”
The letter ends with Cooper citing relevant aspects of the Defamation Act of the NWT and warning the radio station to “govern yourself accordingly.”
Otherwise Cooper may follow up with a lawsuit against the company and anyone else Norn feels is involved.
“Should such legal proceedings be necessary, they will be commenced without further notice to you except as required by law,” Cooper said.
Ollie Williams, head of programming and news with Cabin Radio, said on Tuesday that he welcomed the letter and continued feedback and that his media company has sought clarification on what the specific issues are.
“His legal team is welcome to send a letter to raise concerns about comments and we have written back to seek the precise concerns that they have,” Williams said, adding the company will address those issues when it hears back again.
Williams said it isn’t uncommon to receive complaints about content displayed, but it likely isn’t different from the challenges other media companies face when monitoring news articles online.
He said Cabin Radio does its best to catch any and all offensive comments that may be hurtful or offensive and uses tools on Facebook and other means to help catch it as well.
“But I don’t think Cabin is special in that regard and we have an obligation to look at that,” he said. “They appear to have specific comments in mind and, at the moment, we don’t know what they have in mind.”