Warning: This story contains descriptions of sexual violence.
A prominent Global News radio host has quit the station and filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, alleging that the company’s refusal to enforce journalistic standards on talk radio resulted in her receiving an increase in racist comments and violent threats.
In her resignation letter, Supriya Dwivedi said she is leaving because the outlet failed to act on her repeated complaints about the alleged misinformation being spread by her talk radio colleagues, including “false narratives about refugees, Muslims, Sikhs, and other targeted groups.” This led to her being trolled more when she fact-checked them on her show, she said in the letter addressed to Ward Smith, senior vice president of Global News, viewed by VICE World News.
But in a letter from its lawyer Howard Levitt, Global News’ parent company Corus Entertainment told Dwivedi that her concerns are “fundamentally misinformed” and that it “did everything possible to protect her and others from racism and misogyny.”
“If your client wishes to leave her role because she finds views dramatically different than her own to be antithetical to her continued employment, or cannot tolerate the trolls of social media, then she does not belong in talk radio as practiced in North America,” the letter said.
Dwivedi co-hosted The Morning Show on Global News Radio 640 Toronto from November 2016 until last Friday. The show, on one of Corus’ 39 country-wide radio stations, lagged behind competitor Newstalk 1010 in ratings, according to Dwivedi and her former co-host Matt Gurney, but improved when they were brought on. Dwivedi was the only person of colour hosting weekday radio at 640 Toronto. She does not have another job lined up.
Dwivedi handed in her resignation in October, six weeks after a listener sent her a message that referenced her one-year-old daughter being raped. “Instead of all the hating on white men you pompous little cunt maybe you should be protecting your daughter against BLM thugs who will eventually rape your daughter,” the message said.
“I can no longer be part of an ecosystem that tolerates and in some cases, actively sows division and discord,” she wrote in her resignation letter to Smith. “As a female, racialized journalist, I have been subject to rape threats against me and my 17-month old daughter and absolutely abhorrent statements from members of the public when I attempt to counter and correct the misinformation and false narratives promoted by other hosts and guests on the station.”
In a statement to VICE World News, a Corus spokesperson said the company’s talk radio stations encourage “healthy debate” and “comply with the stringent codes that apply to our industry.”
“To suggest that Corus tolerates, let alone encourages, the dissemination of misinformation is simply not true. It is unreasonable to suggest that the content of any of our programs is designed to provoke hateful commentary against any of our employees,” the statement said.
“We were proud to provide Supriya Dwivedi a platform to share her commentary and opinions not just on radio, but across our television and online platforms. In the same way we were committed to her freedom of expression, we remain committed to the freedom of expression of our other hosts and commentators.”
In August, VICE World News published an investigation in which 12 current and former Corus employees alleged the company had a culture of racist microaggressions, problematic coverage, and retaliation for speaking out. Several of the most outspoken employees were laid off in July after voicing their concerns; at the time, Troy Reeb, the executive vice president of broadcast networks at Corus, said the company was returning to “objective… fact-based journalism.”
Dwivedi’s resignation comes just a few weeks after Corus announced the firm Diversipro had completed a review on systemic racism at the company. As a result, Corus will be increasing diversity training and race-based data collection, said Doug Murphy, chief executive officer of Corus, in an November 12 email to staff committing to “meaningful and lasting change.” Murphy also shared a quote from a Diversipro lead praising the company for its “courage and foresight” to have undertaken the review.
Levitt’s letter, viewed by VICE World News, said Dwivedi’s concerns have been handled “conscientiously and diligently.” Levitt said the attacks against her all come from the public, for which the company is not responsible.
“She accepted a position in talk radio on a station with a significant conservative listenership, where commentators express strong and divergent opinion and the public responds accordingly… Attacks from listeners and others on social media, as well as having other hosts with contrary opinions to her own, are a fundamental constituent of the job she accepted,” Levitt wrote.
Dwivedi said she has no issue with colleagues who share conservative views but with people making demonstrably false comments on air and rarely correcting them. While she said she understands trolling is an industry-wide problem, she believes the volume of vitriol she received was exacerbated by Corus’ refusal to mitigate misleading content on air.
Gurney, who was laid off from Corus in February 2019, told VICE World News Dwivedi was open to debating people with different viewpoints.
“My own politics lean to the right and I never felt like she had any objection to me making a conservative argument so long as I could back it up. I think Supriya wanted a serious tone of debate more than she wanted an echo chamber,” he said, adding that the hate mail she would receive was “materially worse than what I was getting.”
He described Dwivedi as “obscenely competent.”
“If, for whatever reason, someone like her can’t find a way to thrive in a media company’s ecosystem, it’s that company’s loss and it’s the listenership’s loss,” he said.
In emails viewed by VICE World News, Smith said he was “surprised and disappointed” by Dwivedi’s resignation and described her claims as “inaccurate and uncorroborated, particularly given the relationship of ongoing support and opportunity that so many on our team have provided you.”
He also suggested it’s “impossible” to make sure everything on air is accurate.
“In a talk radio station, where we have hosts and guests with strong and differing opinions, there will invariably be guests and hosts whose views other hosts will find to be ‘inaccurate.’ It is impossible for any station to police that unless, of course, we only hired hosts and required guests whom all had monochromatic views. But that was never this station,” Smith said.
Dwivedi and Gurney told VICE World News that when they were recruited to work at Corus, they were told the company was in the process of changing the culture and programming in talk radio, with more of a focus on serious journalism.
“We were told to be patient,” Dwivedi said. “They were moving away from ‘dashboard-pounding radio’ to… ‘smart radio.’”
In December 2016, when M-103, a non-binding motion condemning Islamophobia in Parliament, was being discussed, she alleged she noticed an uptick in misinformation on Global News’ talk radio shows—and an increase in hateful emails she received.
In a letter to Smith obtained by VICE World News, Dwivedi’s lawyer outlined specific incidents that she alleged illustrated the lack of standards on talk radio, contributing to Dwivedi’s decision to leave.
After Dwivedi corrected evening host Alex Pierson’s claims about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau being a globalist, a listener emailed her saying, “You should go have your clit burned off and your ass torn up through ritual gang rape before being sold off,” her lawyer said.
The letter also said Dwivedi complained after former media baron-turned convict Conrad Black (he has since been pardoned by U.S. President Donald Trump) said the N-word on 640 Toronto’s the John Oakley show in January 2018, but Black was still invited back on the program and that conservative commentator Mark Steyn, a repeat guest on Oakley’s show, “regularly peddles blatant Islamophobia with comments such as ‘young Muslims do not like Jews: that is a simple fact.’” In July, Black wrote that he was booted as a contributor to the Oakley show after he claimed Canada doesn’t have systemic racism.
A spokesperson for Steyn told VICE World News he has not appeared on any Corus show “since they got rid of his old friend Conrad Black, and has no plans to return. As a general proposition, he believes that both Miss Dwivedi and Lord Black are entitled to say what they think, and there is nothing either has said that should put them beyond the bounds of public discourse in any free society.”
In July 2019, Dwivedi’s co-host Mike Stafford tweeted disparaging remarks about South Asian people, stating, “May I say to 2019 Mississauga, can you keep your entire fucking family home from hospital emergency when Uncle Apu sprains an ankle?”
Dwivedi told VICE World News no one at the company addressed the tweets with her until she found out about them from an outsider. She said she told her manager Jeff Storey and executive producer Jason Chapman that she wanted to address the issue on air with Stafford, whom she considers a good friend, but “neither of them listened, or quite frankly even really seemed to care about the impact this would have on me.”
“Ultimately they ended up shortchanging themselves for not championing the kind of thing they’re publicly professing with respect to diversity, inclusion, and doing better when it comes to BIPOC employees,” she said.
Levitt said in the letter that Stafford’s tweets were “acted upon and taken seriously. In fact, a meeting with the team ensued and sensitivity training with employees was provided as a direct result of the incident.” He also said Dwivedi indicated she liked Stafford, didn’t believe he was racist, and never asked to stop working with him.
Dwivedi said this fall, only after she got a lawyer, the company removed her email from the website. But she didn’t see that as a permanent solution, as she needed people to be able to contact her for tips, feedback, and speaking requests.
In his letter Levitt said Corus did launch an online training seminar with respect to hate mail, and training on social media and editorial comment regarding anti-Black racism and other racialized communities. He said Dwivedi had never asked Corus to filter her email.
In addition to requesting a monetary settlement, Dwivedi’s lawyer’s letter asked Corus to develop and enforce editorial standards for radio employees, develop a system for addressing discriminatory comments made by on-air hosts and guests, provide diversity training, and institute measures to protect staff from abuse.
Dwivedi said the crux of her human rights complaint is that Global News radio division created and cultivated an audience that makes it untenable for any racialized person to be a host at the station. She said the Human Rights Commission has not yet decided if it will hear her complaint.
But, in light of Corus’ response, she said she doesn’t think there are enough people in positions of power who believe there is a cultural problem at Global News.
“If this is how they’re gaslighting me, an employee paid a six-figure salary… given a lot of prominence at the station, what the fuck hope does somebody have if they’re a junior employee?”
Of the eight 640 Toronto radio hosts currently listed on Global News' website, six are white men and two are white women.
Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter.