Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Palestinians are not "mute" (except in CBC and other Western "news" reporting)

Some ongoing correspondence today about "(im)balance" in CBC "news" reporting.

CBC Ombudsman <> 
Jennifer McGuire <>

Dear Jennifer McGuire,
Thanks for following up with your second message: I have no record of receiving the first one you mention.
Regarding your contention that the CBC news coverage was balanced, I cannot agree. In fact, the description you provide of The National's coverage proves exactly the point I was making. By your own description, that coverage included:

- words from an Israeli soldier
- words from an Israeli politician
- no words from any Palestinian in Gaza. Zero.

This does not even come close to meeting any objective person's definition of "balance". If all Palestinians were in fact mute or unable to speak English, and there were no interpreters available anywhere to translate for them, this might "explain" the omission of their voices. But we all know that is not the case, so the omission can only be the result of editorial or journalistic decisions.

In addition, the images you describe include:
- scenes of death and destruction in Gaza (with voice from a CBC journalist)
- scenes of an attack in Israel (though we all know these resulted in very few deaths)
- a graphic supplied by the Israeli government (i.e. what most people would call military propaganda) 
- no graphic or other information provided by any Palestinian source.

Again, these clear imbalances in sourcing can only have been the result of deliberate choices at some level, and certainly don't even come close to your stated goal of reporting in "a fair, balanced and even-handed fashion." The attempt to portray damage as somehow "equivalent" on both sides is grotesque, given what is and was widely known about the real death tolls. 
If as you say "allowing the expression of the widest possible range of views is at the heart of the notion of fairness and balance in journalism," it is inexplicable that no Palestinian voices and no Palestinian-sourced information was included in this report when Palestinian civil society is overflowing with articulate and reliable spokespeople being systematically ignored in your "news". There are many respected and independent sources of information by and from Palestinians in Gaza that you could've used, but chose not to: whether this was a journalist's choice or editorial control is less apparent, but it was definitely the result of choices made. 
Of course, I didn't get to watch The National every night that week, so maybe I missed something. Maybe you did run interviews with spokespeople from the Palestinian Human Rights Centre or Al Mezan Human Rights Centre or the Red Crescent Society for the Gaza Strip or the Gaza Community Mental Health Centre, or with some of the brilliant young Palestinian citizen journalists whose voices from Gaza were heard around the world (eg on CNN), and I just missed those segments. Maybe the imbalance was only apparent: this is an empirical question that is in your power to resolve. Since you have access to the full dataset, perhaps you can correct any misconceptions I might be suffering from here. 
I would therefore respectfully request that you reply with documentation of CBC news for the week of November 14 through 22, 2102 detailing:

- how many segments directly quoted (filmed) Israelis talking about the attack on Gaza, for how long and on what dates.
- how many segments directly quoted (filmed) Palestinians talking about the attack on Gaza, for how long and on what dates.
- how many Israeli sourced images were used (with or without voice-over), for how long.
- how many Palestinian sourced images were used (with or without voice-over), for how long.

When you provide this information, we can have a rational and objective discussion of what "balance" or "imbalance" might look like. I look forward to hearing from you. 
Thank you for your time and attention to this matter. 

Sincerely and persistently,

David Heap, Ph.D.
London, Ontario
Description :

2013/4/9 Jennifer McGuire <>
Dear Mr. Heap:  

You wrote last November to Kirk LaPointe, CBC Ombudsman, about our Middle East coverage. (Since then Esther Enkin has replaced Mr. LaPointe as Ombudsman).  I replied to your concerns some 10 days later.  But looking through our records, it's now not clear if that reply was actually sent to you.  If it was, I'm sorry to bother you with this note.  If it wasn't, I offer my sincere apologies for the delay and thank you for your patience.


Jennifer McGuire

November 28, 2012

Mr. David Heap
London, Ontario

Dear Mr. Heap:

Thank you for your e-mail of November 19 addressed to Kirk LaPointe, CBC Ombudsman, drawing our attention to our November 18th coverage of the recent Middle East conflict and what you take to be a “shocking imbalance”.  CBC News carried “multiple interviews” with Israelis living with the threat of rockets, you wrote, but “none at all” with people in Gaza where the “real carnage is”.

While I sincerely regret you are disappointed in CBC, I must tell you, respectfully, that your view here is not one I share.

Regrettably, you only referred to a “news report”, so I hope I am correct in assuming you are referring to THE NATIONAL, CBC’s major television news program, widely seen on CBC Television and CBC News Network.  Just to be clear, the program that evening began with a report from Sasa Petricic, CBC News Middle East correspondent, who described events that day – the deadliest so far, he called it – in the escalating conflict between Gaza and Israel.

The report started in Gaza with video of what was a three story building flattened by Israeli missiles.  The video depicted casualties being rushed to the hospital.  Mr. Petricic said there were many, including children, some of whose inert forms were seen in the arms of an adult and on a hospital gurney.  In all some 70 Palestinians had died, he said.  The report included video of explosions and missiles hitting the top floors of a high-rise building in Gaza City, the offices of mostly Arab journalists, Mr. Petricic said.

Then he turned to Israel depicting military equipment moving toward the Gaza border.  An Israeli soldier was seen saying he wanted peace, while Mr. Petricic said a recent survey indicated most Israelis were not so sure, first they wanted an end to the rocket attacks.  He said a rocket had hit an Israeli hospital while the video showed damage in other areas.  He concluded with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talking about the possibility of further escalation.

A brief copy story followed with a graphic demonstrating how Israeli defenses had intercepted rockets heading toward Israeli cities.  In a second report on the program, CBC News Senior Correspondent Terry Milewski looked at the continuing efforts being made toward a ceasefire.   

CBC News has made every effort to tell Canadians about what’s happening in the Middle East in a fair, balanced and even-handed fashion.  As I believe these reports did.  Overall, I think it is fair to say that CBC has broadcast hours of thoughtful, thorough and innovative coverage of this conflict that has offered a wide range of perspectives, perhaps including those closer to yours.

It is CBC’s mandate, part of its obligation under the federal Broadcasting Act, to carry different points of view on controversial matters of public interest and concern like this one.  Indeed, allowing the expression of the widest possible range of views is at the heart of the notion of fairness and balance in journalism.  It is CBC’s obligation to present differing views fairly and accurately affording Canadians the opportunity and the information they need to make up their own minds about the nature or quality of the views expressed.  And I believe we are doing that.

Thank you again for your e-mail.  I hope my reply has reassured you of the continuing integrity of our news service.
It is also my responsibility to tell you that if you are not satisfied with this response, you may wish to submit the matter for review by the CBC Ombudsman.  The Office of the Ombudsman, an independent and impartial body reporting directly to the President, is responsible for evaluating program compliance with the CBC's journalistic policies.  The Ombudsman may be reached by mail at Box 500, Terminal A, Toronto, Ontario M5W 1E6, or by fax at (416) 205-2825, or by e-mail at


Jennifer McGuire
General Manager and Editor in Chief,
CBC News and Centres
205 Wellington Street West
Toronto, ON  M5V 3G7

c.c.:      CBC Ombudsman

On Mon, Nov 19, 2012 at 1:42 PM, CBC Ombudsman <> wrote:
Dear Mr. Heap:

I write to acknowledge receipt of your e-mail.  It is the customary practice of CBC’s Office of the Ombudsman to share complaints with the relevant programmers, who have the right to respond first to criticism of their work.  I have therefore shared your e-mail with Jennifer McGuire, General Manager and Editor in Chief of CBC News.  If you are not satisfied with the response you receive you may ask me to review the matter. 

Programmers are asked to try to respond within twenty working days.


Kirk LaPointe
CBC Ombudsman

>>> <> 19/11/12 3:13 AM >>>
yourSubject: shocking imbalance on Gaza
yourAddress: 85 Forward
yourProvince: Ontario
yourPhone: 519 859 3579
yourCity: London
yourComplaint: Your "news" reporting last night (and indeed all weekend and most of the week) was been shockingly imbalanced. You had multiple interviews with people living in Israel under the *threat* of *possible* death by rockets, and none at all with people living (and dying) in Gaza, where the real carnage is.
There are lots of Palestinians living (though many dying) in Gaza: many of them are extremely eloquent and well-spoken. Why no attempt even to contact them, for a semblance of balance at very least?
The indiscriminate terror bombing of Palestinian civilians and Israeli agression are well documented, internationally. Your complicit silence is extremely disturbing, from a Canadian perspective.
yourName: David Heap
yourPO: N6H 1B8
yourProgramTV: on

Jennifer McGuire
General Manager and Editor in Chief,
CBC News and Centres
(416) 205 6654

Amanda Pyle
Executive Assistant
(416) 205 6816

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