"Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue
freely according to conscience above all
Penned in the midst of England's Civil War, Milton's
great pamphlet published 370 years ago remains seminal to recent
events at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Indeed,
while his specific target at the time was the system for licensing
and approving books, the classic plea for free expression
resonates, particularly in the case of bungled attempts to muzzle
celebrated CBC journalist Linden MacIntyre.
When the CBC announced that there would be 657 full time jobs
cut as part of (further) budget cuts, MacIntyre and others took a
principled stand in May 2014: for the good of the organization,
they decided to voluntarily retire so that more opportunities would
be available for younger people.
When asked about the need to retain younger colleagues at the
CBC, MacIntyre said that the institution depends on the energy,
imagination and intake of youth. He bluntly added that
"without that potential, the place is doomed". In voting
with his feet to end his celebrated 38 year career at the CBC,
MacIntyre presumably hoped that his voluntary and very public
departure would bring public attention to the challenges facing the
Intervening events at the CBC, which others have commented on in
exhaustive detail, have done little to suggest that the CBC has or
will soon turn the corner. Though the optimist might note that it
is difficult to imagine affairs getting worse. And even though
MacIntyre's "banning" from the CBC was later
reversed, his treatment upon departure would make Milton turn over
in his grave.
The ruckus emerged after the Globe and Mail interviewed
MacIntyre prior to his scheduled voluntary departure. In his
remarks, MacIntyre hinted that the two CBC Saints Peter,
[authors note: he did not use those words] being Peter
Mansbridge and the late Peter Gzowski, had engaged in what some
might consider to be workplace bullying. In describing the newsroom
culture, and the related challenges of "abusive stardom",
MacIntyre referred to "tantrums" by stars and said:
"You know, it's Mansbridge, Gzowski, whatever. They were
not like shrinking violets either. So along comes [The Name Who
Cannot Be Mentioned]."
Despite his attempt to highlight his concerns about vulnerable
employees, the retiring MacIntyre was quickly rebuked. The personal
comments expressed out of apparent and genuine concern were
described by Jennifer Harwood, managing editor of CBC News Network,
as "disgraceful". And as a result, the CBC told on air
staff to cancel any interviews with MacIntyre ahead of his last
scheduled episode of the Fifth Estate. The potential that senior
brass at the CBC may have inadvertently reinforced the implied
allegations of chill and tyranny were seemingly not
The resulting "outrage at the outrage" forced a
dramatic reversal, with the CBC backing down the next day and
reversing MacIntyre's ban. Apparently Harwood's directive
had not been cleared with those actually in power, and the edict
did not meet the CBC's allegedly "rigorous"
While Harwood later herself acknowledged that the ban had been
"shortsighted", the incident highlights the difficulties
of an organization seemingly paralyzed by internal politics.
Cancelling the right of a journalist (who happens to have
impeccable credentials and have been in the midst of a graceful
exit engineered out of his heartfelt concern for future vitality of
the institution) is a fundamental betrayal of the values which the
CBC is in business to propagate and foster.
Takeaway for Employers
The MacIntyre departure highlights the risks to employer who
attempt to recklessly ignore Milton's plea and try to limit
what current and former employees can say, especially in the case
of voluntary departures. When an experienced and respected
colleague leaves an organization, there can be scope for what has
historically been considered "fair comment". And in light
of current valid concerns about respectful workplaces and how
harassment can be eradicated, employers must be extremely cautious
when trying to denigrate departing employees. It is indeed rather
ironic that sometimes the best way to validate a contentious point
of view is to be disproportionate in how one responds to
The foregoing provides only an overview and does not
constitute legal advice. Readers are cautioned against making any
decisions based on this material alone. Rather, specific legal
advice should be obtained.
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