CBC ombudsman: The Lang & O’Leary Exchange was not mocking spies in Brazil

By Esther Enkin, CBC Ombudsman

By Esther Enkin, CBC Ombudsman

On The Lang & O’Leary Exchange, Amanda Lang and her guest co-host Bruce Sellery talked about reports of Canada spying on the Brazilian Ministry of Mines and Energy. The tone was humorous although the point that it was serious if true was made. Humour is subjective, and the complainant, Ricardo Barros, thought it wasn’t at all amusing. He said Mr. Sellery was disdainful and disrespectful of Brazil in his remarks. I did not at all share that interpretation of the exchange.


While watching the October 7th edition of The Lang & O’Leary Exchange, you were offended by the tone used by a guest host, Bruce Sellery, during a conversation he and Amanda Lang had about reports of a Canadian spy agency targeting the Brazilian Ministry of Mines and Energy.

Related content on J-Source:

You felt that Mr. Sellery was mocking Brazil, implying there would be no reason for Canada to do so. You took his comment that he wanted to talk about this story for half an hour as further evidence he was being sarcastic and implying that Brazil was not worthy of the efforts, that nothing could be gained by snooping on the activities of a Brazilian ministry:

“I am utterly surprised with CBC's male commentator during your show on October 7th in regards to Canadian spying allegations in Brazil….. ‘From all countries, I am surprised Brazil’… with a condescending tone of voice. Then he sarcastically stated: I want to comment on this for 30 minutes", passive aggressively suggesting this subject matter has not importance.”

You noted that Brazil is a strong economy and has significant trade and investment with Canada, and should not be mocked.

In early October, a program on Brazilian television reported that a Canadian spy agency, Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), was able to map email traffic and phone calls in and out of the Brazilian Ministry of Mines and Energy. The story was based on material leaked by Edward Snowden, the U.S. National Security Agency contractor who leaked a huge volume of documents which revealed electronic eavesdropping by many countries. The CSEC gathered metadata; it is unclear whether emails were actually read. The Brazilian government reacted angrily. In the course of their discussion about the incident, Amanda Lang read (in translation) a tweet from Brazilian president Dilma Roussef:

This is unacceptable between countries that are supposed to be partners. We repudiate cyber warfare.”

Ms. Lang and Mr. Sellery briefly discussed the incident as one of five stories that comprised the opening feature of the show. The feature, “Big 5,” is a daily digest of the top stories of the day. They are chosen for their news value and for what the hosts can add to them. The format of the segment enables the hosts to provide some analysis to the stories, and to interact in a lively and informal fashion.

You cited Ms. Lang’s response to Mr. Sellery’s question, “Do you like this story?” – to which she replied, “I like all the stories. I pick them,” as proof that she felt Mr. Sellery was being disrespectful about Brazil. You felt an apology was in order: “Brazilians are of kind and respectful nature and don't deserve to hear condescending and sarcastic allusions about Brazil as a nation.”


The Executive Producer of The Lang & O’Leary Exchange, Robert Lack, said he was sorry you were offended by Mr. Sellery’s comments. He assured you that no such condescension or sarcasm was intended, nor did he see or hear any evidence of it. You had quoted Mr. Sellery as saying “From all countries, I am surprised Brazil” as evidence of his mockery. Mr. Lack explained that was not exactly what he said:

“What Mr. Sellery actually said during the segment was this: I can’t believe this…. the idea that Canadians would be spying on the Brazilian Mines and Energy.” As I watched, I took this to mean that Mr. Sellery was surprised that Canada would be spying on anybody – not that he felt Brazil was not worthy of spying on. I asked Mr. Sellery about this and he confirmed that was what he meant.”

He added that Mr. Sellery was “horrified that anybody had interpreted his comments as negative toward Brazil.” He added that he actually meant what he said when he commented that he wanted to continue talking about the story. As Mr. Lack explained to you:

“…he DID love the story when compared to the other stories we did that day. He had explained why earlier in the segment when he said: "I like this one (story) because it makes it seem like James Bond could actually be Canadian." He felt it was a fun and exciting topic that touched on the stuff of movies, at least more so than the other topics he and Ms. Lang talked about that day.”


The tone and pace of the discussion between Ms. Lang and Mr. Sellery was high energy and somewhat irreverent. Aside from any information imparted, there was a significant amount of banter between the two as they discussed the report on the targeting of a Brazilian Ministry by Communications Security Establishment Canada. While the allegations are serious ones, a point Ms. Lang made, Mr. Sellery found humour in the fact that Canada spies at all. His emphasis, presumably with some degree of irony, is that it gave Canada “cred, street cred” because we actually were caught up in the Snowden spying revelations.

Humour is subjective and, without context, can be open to interpretation. You heard it as a sarcastic commentary on Brazil. If you read the transcript, it appears that if Mr. Sellery is being condescending about any country it would be Canada. He is playing off the image of Canada as bland and low key. For example, he didn’t say, as you remembered “from all countries, I am surprised Brazil.” And Mr. Lack didn’t get it quite accurately either. 

To continue reading this column, please visit ombudsman.cbc.radio-canada.ca, where it was originally published.