March/April 2000

Journalistic "Integrity" at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

Canada's largest cultural institution violates its own code of ethics with one-sided and poorly researched peace process coverage

By Tamar Sternthal, Camera Media Report, Winter 2000
"The CBC is fully committed to maintaining accuracy, integrity and fairness in its journalism… CBC is committed to compliance with a number of principles. Foremost among those is our commitment to scrupulously abide by the journalistic code of ethics formulated in our own handbook of journalistic standards and practices which stresses lack of bias in reporting."
Canadian Broadcasting Corp, Office of the Ombudsman

With four national radio networks, two cable television channels, and an international short-wave radio service, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) is Canada's largest cultural institution. Armed with 759.5 million taxpayer dollars from the Canadian Parliament, CBC purports to set the standard for journalistic excellence in Canada. Yet, sadly, its record in unbiased and accurate reporting, at least on Israel and the Middle East, is far less impressive than its weighty protestations to journalistic integrity. A case in point is a 15-minute segment in May, 1999 on the effects of a failing peace process for Palestinians on the West Bank, part of a longer broadcast on "Peace Deals That Don't Bring Peace." In both his overarching slant on what has transpired in the Oslo process and his close-up look at specific events on the ground, CBC Jerusalem correspondent Neil MacDonald offers his audience a biased and poorly researched substitute for fair and accurate reporting. For example, according to the broadcast:

The Jewish state has frozen or stalled many of its commitments while the putative Palestinian state has been reduced to an unconnected archipelago of cities on a small fraction of their land.
Thus the listener is informed that Israel has failed to comply with its obligations. Totally omitted, of course, is that Israel's delay in fulfilling certain parts of agreements has been in response to Palestinian non-compliance or violations of PA obligations, as when Simon Peres, then Prime Minister, froze withdrawals after Palestinian suicide bombers killed more than 60 Israelis. Indeed, MacDonald never mentions PA obligations under Oslo, let alone their non-fulfillment.

No less tendentious is the statement about the "putative Palestinian state" having been "reduced to an unconnected archipelago of cities on a small fraction of their land." In fact, of course, Palestinian territory has not been reduced at all but enlarged, from nothing in 1993 to, currently, about forty percent of the West Bank, and most of Gaza, and all major urban centers, areas that are home to more than ninety-seven percent of Palestinians. The "putative" Palestinian state has been neither reduced nor enlarged as it is yet to be negotiated.

MacDonald also implies that the fact that territories under Palestinian control include disconnected areas somehow reflects Israel's violation of agreements, but the step-by-step relinquishing of areas by Israel was a central element of the Oslo and post-Oslo accords, an element agreed upon by both sides. MacDonald's references to the territories gained by the Palestinians as a small fraction of "their" land is also tendentious and prejudicial because, again, what constitutes "their" land is as yet to be determined. A more responsible journalist, one who placed a greater value on accuracy, would at least have phrased it is something like "what the Palestinians consider their land"; MacDonald chose the prejudicial phrasing.

Elsewhere in the broadcast, MacDonald states:

The Palestinians, who five years ago foresaw prosperity and the dignity of statehood, are still largely controlled and subjugated.
But in the areas under Palestinian administration, which again, is home to more than ninety-seven percent of Palestinians, the PA controls every aspect of Palestinian life – schools, medical institutions, civic and political establishments. If the Palestinians are "controlled and subjected," it is by the PA. When CAMERA pointed this out to MacDonald, he responded with the tired canard that Gaza is "the most crowded slum on Earth." According to 1996 statistics, the population per square mile was 6,281. This number compares with 16,513 in Hong Kong, 12,417 in Gibraltar, and 80,426 in Macau.

In yet another passage, MacDonald remarks:

Still the peace process went on with the Israelis pulling out of parts of the West Bank even more slowly than the Oslo agreement called for.
Again, MacDonald puts the onus on the Israelis and is silent on the Palestinian role in bringing about those delays in pull backs. Throughout the broadcast, nothing is said of Palestinian violations of Oslo; no reference, for example, to ongoing incitement, hate-mongering, and war-mongering in Palestinian school texts and Palestinian media, ongoing failure to cut Palestinian forces to levels agreed upon in the Accords, refusal to extradite murderers of Israelis and, rather, their induction into the Palestinian police, refusal to clamp down on terror organizations as required by Oslo, or ongoing Palestinian arms smuggling in violation of Oslo. But to cite such PA violations would muddy the CBC's tale of Israeli culpability.

A passage in the broadcast that touches on a specific incident is illustrative of the shoddiness and the bias of what passes for on-the-spot reporting at the CBC's Jerusalem bureau. MacDonald speaks of Palestinians in the West Bank town of Kafr a-Dik, whom he visited:

Recently their peace partner decided to rip up thousands of the village's olive trees to build a road for the convenience of nearby Jewish settlements. The villagers protested; Israel simply took the land.

The suggestion that Israel built the road "for the convenience of nearby Jewish settlements" and that it "simply took the land" proffers the same tendentious slant as does the rest of the broadcast. In fact, building of new access roads to settlements isolated by virtue of Israeli withdrawals has been agreed upon as part of the various Oslo accords, beginning with those negotiated by Yitzhak Rabin, and the roads' primary intent, of course, is to provide security, not mere convenience, to those living in the settlements.

Indeed, among the many Jewish victims of attacks on West Bank roads was 25 year old Yael Meivar, killed in 1998 while driving near Kafr a-Dik. When asked by CAMERA why he had not mentioned Meivar, or security issues, in his report, MacDonald responded that, "I was not even aware of it; the settlement spokesman did not apprise me of it."

He also claimed that a settlement spokesperson was the source of the assertion that the road was built "for the convenience of nearby Jewish settlements." CBC executive producer Sheldon Howard named the source as a Moshe Shimoni of the nearby Jewish settlement of Alei Zahav. Yet, when CAMERA contacted residents of Alei Zahav, a small community of 100 families, none had heard of Shimoni. Baruch Leiberman, a longtime resident who works for the Yesha Council for Jewish Settlements, likewise did not know of Shimoni. Nor is there a phone listing for a Moshe Shimoni in that region. What had the CBC done to check on the identity and reliability of its "source"? Obviously, not very much.

And what of the claim that thousands of olive trees were ripped up? In response to CAMERA inquiries, MacDonald wrote, "We went into the village's olive groves, where we saw a brand new, as-yet-unfinished road for which thousands of trees had clearly been uprooted." In an effort to obtain hard data, CAMERA contacted Peter Lerner, spokesperson for the Israeli Civil Administration, who learned from the District Command Office that 354 trees were uprooted, dozens of which were replanted elsewhere for the Palestinian farmers in accordance with Israeli policy. Owners had also been offered compensation, which some refused, a fact MacDonald concedes in his letter. MacDonald had not spoken with Lerner about the road. His sources for the report were Palestinian villagers, his own estimate of numbers of uprooted olive trees, and the mysterious "settlement spokesperson," Mr. Shimoni; hardly a solidly, professionally researched story.

MacDonald asserts flatly in his correspondence that, despite the points raised by CAMERA, he stands by his statements in the broadcast, and he made clear that he considers the matter closed. One wonders if Canadian viewers, apprised of the anti-Israel bias and distortion that are a staple of the CBC's Jerusalem bureau reporting, are likely to be as satisfied with what their tax dollars are buying as Mr. MacDonald is.

As of press time, in mid-January, CAMERA's file remains in the hands of CBC's ombudsman. The network has yet to respond.

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