Activist’s Allegation Presented as Fact in Kingston Paper (August 15 2008)

August 15, 2008

“Activist’s” Allegation Presented as Fact in Kingston Paper

August 15, 2008

By: Mike Fegelman

Dear HonestReporting Canadasubscriber:

A recent communique advised readers to look local, noting that “the smaller medianeeds watching as well.”

While HonestReporting Canada regularly monitors Canadian media giants like the Globe and Mail, CTV, and CBC, we cannot ignore the influence and reach of smaller local Canadian media outlets.

Writing in the Jerusalem Post recently, Ira Rifkin acknowledged the importance of monitoring your local media:

  • “Think globally but act locally. Bogus anti-Israel claims must be contested, no matter how seemingly inconsequential the platform. Israel’s narrative must be voiced – again and again and again, if necessary – so that public opinion is not molded by Israel’s enemies alone.
On that note, a local Kingston newspaper called the Whig-Standard carried a highly editorialized and problematic report on July 31that caught our attention.

Reporter Frank Armstrong detailed how a city “activist” originally from Kingston, had been arrested by Israeli authorities and deported back to Canada for his involvement in a protest at the construction site of the security barrier near Ni’lin, West Bank. A statement published by Israeli Defense officials noted that Victor MacDiarmid (see photo lower below) was “arrested for violating a closed military zone and (for) attacking two border police officers.”

According to the lead of the article:
  • “There are some things a young person should never have to know or feel – like the sharp retort of a bullet discharging from a hostile soldier’s gun, the smash of a hard boot or rifle butt against one’s skull, or the cool point of a machine gun barrel pressed into one’s flesh. Kingston’s Victor MacDiarmid, a 23-year-old University of Toronto student, experienced all of it in the last month, while volunteering in the West Bank for a Palestinian-led group that’s protesting against Israeli occupation of Palestine.”
This feature-length report of over 1,100 words (which also appeared in the local Ottawa-area newspaper The Daily Observer) included the following problematic statement by reporter Armstrong in the concluding paragraphs of the report:
  • After two days of trying to get him to sign a statement written in Hebrew, police officers took him to a prison near the Tel Aviv airport where he was held with other foreigners until his flight home.”
As this claim was not attributed to any evidence, witness, or corroborating sources, we questioned how a reporter from Kingston was able to authoritatively confirm that a serious breach of protocol and a human rights violation had happened at an Israeli prison. If this sentence was attributed to a claim made by “activist” MacDiarmid then that is another matter altogether, but unfortunately Mr. Armstrong made this statement himself.

To allege, without any evidence, that Israeli authorities had tried to coerce a detainee into a signing a false statement, is especially problematic. While we appreciate that the Whig-Standard and reporter Armstrong acted in the best of intentions in researching and producing this report, notwithstanding, this statement was not couched in terms like “alleged” or “claimed” or otherwise attributed to “activist” MacDiarmid. In other words, this report claims with an unknown measure of authority, that this incident actually took place.

As there’s no evidence to confirm the veracity of this claim and in consideration for the especially serious nature of this allegation, we felt it was incumbent upon the Whig-Standard to issue a clarification as soon as possible to set the record straight.

After contacting senior editors at the paper and communicating our concerns, the following clarification was printed in today’s edition of the Whig-Standard:

While we appreciate that the paper tried to remedy the situation by issuing this clarification, notwithstanding, by the fact that editors at the paper have elected to not include the original contentious statement (After two days of trying to get him to sign a statement written in Hebrew…”) in the clarification, readers are not able to conclude which statement of the July 31 report was without attribution. This ambiguous clarification therefore hasn’t clarified anything at all and has only served to obfuscate the situation.

Furthermore, while the paper may wish to pass the buck and blame the Israeli Embassy for not getting back to their requests, this does not abrogate the paper or their reporter’s responsibility to get the facts straight and to present the news in a fair and accurate manner.

How You Can Make A Difference

Tell Kingston Whig-Standard editor Claude Scilley that his paper’s August 15 clarification was both dismal and unsatisfactory, as it didn’t reference the original problematic statement (“After two days of trying to get him to sign a statement written in Hebrew…) that should have been attributed to MacDiarmid in the first place, but instead was presented as fact by reporter Armstrong.

Send letters to editor Claude Scilley at: or call: (613) 544-4000 to voice your concerns.


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