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Shame on the CBC

Shame on the CBC

CBC's Mideast coverage is amoral, irresponsible and rife with double standards.


This article originally appeared in the National Post, Jan.8/02.

Mr. Tony Burman, Editor in Chief, CBC News, Current Affairs and Newsworld

Dear Mr. Burman,

I am writing in reply to your recent letter, in which you ask that I withdraw my criticism of the CBC's Mideast coverage.

Many Canadians are still struggling to comprehend how Chief David Ahenakew could have spoken approvingly of Hitler and the Holocaust. Their understanding has not been helped by the media, who've largely failed to explain the context -- a speech in which he had just blamed Jews for the Second World War and, by "killing Arabs," an eventual third one.

I believe your Mideast coverage encourages demented views such as these.

I understand this is a serious charge, and am prepared to debate in a mutually agreed forum if you disagree.

Let me be specific. Our government's decision to name Hezbollah a "terrorist" organization was inevitable, once the UN certified Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon was "complete," and the United States added them to its "A-team." Yet, your reporter claims it was an "intensely political decision" because these pioneers of suicide attacks can be viewed as a "national liberation movement."

Another -- apparently infected with the same conspiracy virus as Ahenakew -- referred darkly to a "Jewish lobby" using "pressure tactics" (a press conference and a lawsuit, standard fare in Ottawa). Shame on the CBC.

Shame on you, personally, for resorting to similarly crude stereotypes to dismiss critics.

Shame on you, personally, for resorting to similarly crude stereotypes to dismiss critics. In newspapers available daily in Toronto, you'll find articles by Jews who share your view of the Mideast conflict, and by non-Jews who believe you are hopeless apologists for the Palestinians.

Relying on the CBC ombudsman to certify your coverage is akin to Jean Chrétien citing Howard Wilson to defend his Shawinigan shenanigans.

By 2001, even beat reporters drawing paychecks from the public broadcaster began ridiculing that position. Having observed PMO-CBC relations from a front-row seat, I appreciate they must sometimes walk on eggshells -- especially with nothing but perpetual Liberal government on the horizon. How empowering it must be for a journalist to be far away from the powerful people who today vote your budget and tomorrow might offer you a job. Freed from incessant demands for fairness, free to pursue a political agenda other than the government's.

The CBC's consistently negative presentation of Israel -- a country where minefields are not a bureaucratic problem, and that has its few good points along with the bad -- is, in part, a consequence of sending reporters who lack Hebrew. Even a senior reporter like Neil Macdonald, in my experience though understandably not yours, normally lags behind news freely available on radio and the Internet. And, the linguistic gap perhaps explains why -- despite the expense of maintaining a foreign bureau -- he rarely reports on Israel's medical, cultural, scientific and technological achievements.

Your correspondent deserves praise, on the other hand, for studying Arabic, which is not easy to acquire. It's curious, therefore, that Macdonald has not reported more frequently from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria -- in carrying out his self-described mandate of "holding what's going on up to the mirror of Canadian values." Nor have we heard much about Syria's de facto occupation of Lebanon.

The toxicity of this double standard on democracy and human rights is compounded by the frequent omission of context from his reports.

Recently, Macdonald presented a Hamas spokesperson who vowed to continue attacks "as long as there is occupation." Believe me, and despite how it may look to you and other senior managers in Toronto, this guy is no Nelson Mandela.

The New York Times routinely explains that by ending "occupation" he means eliminating the Jewish state; had your correspondent done likewise, and noted the widespread public support beyond Hamas for "liberating all of Palestine," Ahenakew would understand why Israel is "killing Arabs."

The CBC's sins of commission are also noxious in minds of this ilk, judging from the volume of e-mails I receive that refer to "Judeo-Nazis," the "Israeli SS" perpetrating a Holocaust and Ariel Sharon -- of whom I'm no fan -- as another Hitler.

Describing a recent shooting of Israelis, for example, Macdonald appropriately notes the long history of violence in Hebron; in an aside, he mentions the horrific 1994 murder of 29 Arabs by Dr. Baruch Goldstein.

He could also have reasonably alluded to the brutal slaughter of Jews in 1921, 1929 and 1936 by determined opponents of the establishment of any Jewish state, of whatever size. But these enormities don't fit CBC's prejudices -- of Jews as "settlers" having no business being in Hebron, and of the conflict being about "armed Palestinians battling the Israeli occupation." It would also suggest that, while an independent state is necessary for peace, it might not be sufficient -- as president Bill Clinton learned at Camp David.

Still, and though it is a criminal offence under anti-terror laws for anyone to assist Hamas (punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment), you argue that viewers should be allowed to make up their own minds. We're talking about blowing up teenagers at discos, mind you -- "crimes against humanity," according to Human Rights Watch. Presumably your open-mindedness extends to young viewers -- potential recruits like Omar Khadr or a Canadian John Walker Lindh. Fortunately, that's not CBC's approach to rape, armed robbery and other lesser crimes -- or even toward legal, though harmful, substances like tobacco.

Aside from being irresponsible and amoral, your failure to call Hamas a terrorist organization betrays another double standard. When the blood on the sidewalk is Israeli it's one thing, when American it's another. It was an error, you say, for the CBC initially to call the Sept. 11 attacks "terrorism." A fortuitous error, I'd say, considering the likely reaction at the border had you referred to al-Qaeda as a "national liberation movement."

Yet, I'll withdraw the allegation, as you demand, if you'll provide examples where David Halton spouts that Orwellian line, even now after emotions have cooled. Nor do viewers find him regularly challenging from Washington the appropriateness of calling the 9/11 Saudi hijackers "terrorists" -- as you regularly do regarding their Hamas brethren. As journalists, you should be ashamed for covering up their ideological kinship by censoring bin Laden's messages.

Ironically, it's in the name of professional standards that you reject the word "terrorism." You insist the CBC must not adopt the terminology of either side. Say what? We must be watching different channels, if not in different languages. Because, while I sometimes agree with your terminological choices, it's clear that the CBC, like the Tower of Pisa, always leans in one direction.

Your reporters do not leave viewers to decide whether curfews are self-defense measures; they unambiguously refer to "collective punishment," the Palestinian term and a crime under the Geneva Conventions. You call Israel's targeted killings, though not the recent U.S. one in Yemen, "assassinations" -- an honorific used by Palestinian spokespersons but not normally conferred by CBC on any mass murderers, other than, it appears, those who send bombers to blow up babies in Jerusalem pizzerias. Your correspondents refer to the "occupation" and to the West Bank and Gaza as "occupied Palestinian land," not as disputed territory. And they call Israeli communities "settlements" and their residents "settlers."

Interestingly, you never mention that even these Israelis -- as do Palestinians -- have a stronger claim than my neighbors who've settled on aboriginal lands in British Columbia. Fortunately, your reporters don't bring home the thinly veiled code they use to "explain" why Israeli school kids are blown up by Hamas "militants."

That's what CBC in Montreal normally calls political party members, not murderers, and it's no wonder some viewers may be wondering why Israel is killing Arabs. Unless they've read a recent report by Human Rights Watch that appears to have escaped Macdonald's attention. It states unambiguously that nothing -- not settlements, not occupation -- justifies Hamas' "crimes against humanity." They've also concluded that Yasser Arafat is "politically responsible" and I'm still waiting for a Newsworld program to balance last year's one-hour indictment of Ariel Sharon as a war criminal.

I also challenge you to produce, in writing, the longstanding "policy" you claim to be implementing. Even your less-than-independent ombudsman says: "There is nothing in CBC's journalism policy that prevents the public broadcaster's journalists from calling a spade a spade or a terror attack a terror attack."

Innocent Canadians were incinerated in the Twin Towers and in Bali. Today -- young and old, at home and abroad-- we are all considered legitimate targets by al-Qaeda. In my book that's terrorism, and I'm frankly appalled that the guy calling the shots at Canada's national broadcasting service believes it's an error to call these murderers what they are.

Yours sincerely,

Norman Spector

January 11, 2003

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The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 6

(6) brenda, November 17, 2011 12:13 AM

I agree with the article too!

I love many of the CBC's special investigative news stories from around the world. I find it thought provoking and makes one think. However I find the stories regarding Israel not accurate and they like many others spout off untruths. CBC and other news agencies must dig deeper to get both sides of this very long historical issue. War is not pleasant to say the least and attacks and killings are very sad. If Israel messes up and it is truly not legal then report it..and you must do that kind of reporting about the other side as well. I find that there is quite an extreme bias against Israel. I hope CBC and others news agencies will do a complete balanced story and do it justice. I thank you for your time and hope the changes will come soon.

(5) Anonymous, April 16, 2003 12:00 AM

CBC News

Here is an email I sent to the CBC Ombudsman and his reponse.

Dear Mr. Muenz,

I write to acknowledge receipt of your communication, which I have

shared with Mary Sheppard, Chief Producer of CBC News Online, along with

the request that your concerns be addressed.

Yours truly,

David Bazay


>>> George Muenz 15/04/03 2:42:39 PM >>>

Once again, CBC goes to great lengths to portray

Israel in a negative light, and right up there after

news about Iraq, chose to highlight and publish a UN

report on Israels record on Human Rights. One has to

read the article to see that "Israel is regularly

condemned by the 53-nation Commission, which is

chaired this year by Libya's U.N. Ambassador"

It also states that this report is initiated by Arab

and African nations and we all know how tolerant and

respectful of human rights they are.

Given CBCs coverage of Israel in the past few years,

we know that this article is DELIBARATELY selected to

be a headline. I don't deny that CBC has the right to

publish this information, but the headline should have

read differently. It should have said something like:

"Led by Libyas UN Ambassador, and initiated by Arab

and African nations, the UN Human Rights Commission

released a report on Israels human rights record."

Unlike Canada, Israel has never taken all of it's Arab

population and moved them into camps which Canada did

to the Japanese in WWII even though Canada was not at

war with Japan and these people posed no threat. You

however do feel that you have some kind of moral high

ground in which to criticize Israel which is faced

with extreme danger every day.

I am ashamed and disgusted with the CBC!

George Muenz

Vancouver, BC

(4) Aston Kwok, February 24, 2003 12:00 AM

I see where you're coming from

Thanks for the article. I also feel the coverage of Middle East has been increasingly biased against Israel, ignoring her legitimate needs to provide security for her citizens.

(3) Lydia Roussel, January 17, 2003 12:00 AM

Biais... news

I totally agree with you that CBC has been less than neutral in their presentation of world event, it being Israel-Palestine conflict or elsewhere. It would be refreshing to have news cast that just gives us what happen without using sementic and syntax to alter our point of view. Thank you for telling them what you saw.

(2) Eli Feldman, January 13, 2003 12:00 AM

News Reporters!!! Are you joking

CBC has always been on the forefront of anti-Jewish views and columns, and as long as they are able to market that line of rhetoric, they'll continue to do so. Israel, on the other hand can do quite a bit more to hinder these ultra leftist (so called) journalists who sit securely in Israel whilst at the same time spewing filth and lies on the only bastion of democracy in the entire Middle East. These (phony) journalists from CBC, BBC, AP and the rest of these LOSERS do not need to be on the front lines with the IDF they despise, these nincompoops shouldn't be allowed to travel wherever the IDF is involved in defensive actions against the enemy. The Israeli government can and should restrict these Reporters from the front lines by simply making these areas 'Closed Millitary Zones' and let them do their 'so called' reporting from their hotel rooms in Jerusalem and not from the front lines like they did in Jenin. Who, do you think is responsible for the Jenin massacre lies if not journalists. Does anyone for one moment think if these news reporters were sitting in Jericho or Gaza or some other area under Palestinian rule would they dare to report on PLO or Hamas atrocities against innocent Israeli's, of course not, their lives would be jeopardized, if they did, and they know that. In Israel though, not only do they report but they additionally, input their anti-Israel, anti-Semitic views, feelings and exaggerations to portray Israel as a villain. The least we can do is restrict them from the front lines. That much we owe the IDF and the People of Israel

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