Canadian Media Bark up the Wrong Tree in Lebanon Ambush (August 4, 2010)

August 4, 2010

Dear HonestReporting Canada Subscriber,

When it comes to news coverage of Mideast skirmishes and conflicts, sometimes, to quote real estate agents worldwide, the only thing that matters is “Location, Location, Location!”

Yesterday’s fatal exchange of fire between Lebanese soldiers and the IDF on Israel’s northern border, which left one Israeli soldier dead along with four other fatalities on the Lebanese side, raised several questions concerning the integrity and accuracy of the media that covered the events.

Lebanese forces admittedly opened fire on IDF soldiers performing routine maintenance work by the security fence near the border. The IDF soldiers were clearing bushes to improve the line of sight over the border and to prevent Hezbollah terrorists from hiding in the undergrowth and carrying out an attack or kidnapping. The routine work had been cleared in advance with UNIFIL, which has recently confirmed that the tree in question was in Israeli territory.

It’s vital to note that the UN demarcated Blue Line that marks the official border between Israel and Lebanon does not always follow the route of the security fence. While the IDF was operating over the fence, it was still within Israeli territory as seen on the map below.

When Wire Services Get it Wrong, Media Fall Down the Ugly TreeAs is so often the case in any incident involving Israel, official Israeli statements were ignored in favour of Lebanese accusations that the IDF had crossed into Lebanese territory, a theme taken up by wire services like the Associated Press which had initially described the crane as being located on the Lebanese side of the border. and were two such Canadian media outlets which succumbed to incorrect captioning by AP.

A article yesterday stated that the incident had occurred “on the Lebanese side of the border in the southern village of Adaisseh.” HonestReporting Canada notified CTV executives about this error and commendably the following amendment was immediately issued: also recognized this same photo caption error and issued an amendment for the online photo while commissioning the following correction:

It’s also worth noting that both and also carried articles today reporting on the UN’s claim that this incident had occurred on sovereign Israeli territory.

Meanwhile, Toronto Star correspondent Olivia Ward’s report was balanced and contextualized in scope, however her statement claiming that Israel was cutting trees in a nebulously-termed “buffer zone” was not:

The Israelis say they were trying to cut trees in the buffer zone along the border area – and had notified the United Nations peacekeeping force UNIFIL in advance – when Lebanese snipers opened fire, killing Lt.-Col. Dov Harari, and gravely wounding the platoon commander.”

A buffer zone sounds rather vague and may imply that Lebanon’s response was mitigated or even understandable. Interestingly, Ward didn’t specifically cite either country’s claim to the tree itself. Likewise, the Globe and Mail’s account of this incident saw reporter Patrick Martin conducting verbal gymnastics to avoid conceding outright that the incident had occurred on Israeli territory.

How and Why Were the Photographers There?

An AP report on the incident places Ronith Daher, a Lebanese journalist at the scene. Evidently, someone from Reuters was also at the location. But why were they there in the first place taking photographs before the incident even occurred? After all, pruning foliage is hardly headline news on an ordinary day unless something out of the ordinary was expected.

Was this incident a staged and pre-planned ambush as evidenced by the presence of photographers and journalists even before the exchange of fire? Were these journalists there precisely because they had advance notice of a potential flashpoint?

Credit goes out to CBC correspondent Irris Makler for filing a report today on “World Report” which acknowledged that “There was also a large number of Lebanese journalists and Israel claims they must have been alerted ahead of time to be present at this distant border region.” Makler also noted that the UN’s findings vindicate Israel’s position, stating that this “could bolster the Israeli claim that there was a Lebanese sniper unit waiting to attack the Israeli soldiers while they were lopping trees.” To listen to this report please click here. Makler also filed a similar report on CBC TV’s News Now today which can be accessed here or on the image to the right.

Causation Lost in Translation

Listeners of last night’s broadcast of the CBC Radio program “As It Happens” and readers of today’s Ottawa Citizen were given the false impression that Israel had in some way provoked/instigated a Lebanese retaliation. To quote the As It Happens teaser: “When Israeli soldiers cut down trees along the border with Lebanon, tensions flare — and five people are killed.” Likewise, the Citizen featured a report today from Times of London correspondent James Hider stating that the “Latest confrontation (was) spurred by (an) Israeli attempt to cut down a tree.

Of course, the reverse chronology of these statements is the truth. Namely that tensions and confrontations were “flared” / “spurred” when a Lebanese Armed Forces sniper instigated aggressive hostilities against Israeli soldiers who were cutting down trees in Israeli territory.

Meanwhile, reports aired yesterday by Global National’s Stuart Greer (see right) and freelancer Ben Gilbert on two CBC programs (see here and here), along with the Globe and Mail’s report today, got lost in translation for their portrayal of the location of the incident’s hostilities and what brought the skirmish to a fore, as simply being boiled down to a matter of “he said/she said” between Israel and Lebanon.

A Simple Narrative Ignored by the Media

Many media outlets, including the BBC, have given equal or more weight to Lebanese claims surrounding the nature of the incident despite the overwhelming evidence. CNN stated that “Two separate narratives emerged about the incident.” Commenting on the media coverage, particularly from the New York Times, Barry Rubin says:

The truth, however, is easy to ascertain–did Israel announce the maintenance, permit the photographers and UN people to watch and then cross deliberately into Lebanon?–but Israel is being portrayed as an aggressor that caused the outbreak of fighting. So millions of people will either believe that Israel was at fault or that the event is in question.

The narrative, however, is simple: In an unprovoked attack, Lebanese soldiers fired on Israelis and murdered one soldier.”

In a similar vein, a staff editorial which will appear in tomorrow’s National Post stated that “Not surprisingly, the event is being used as a rallying point to try to unite Lebanese disparate factions against Israel. Even in the West, many of the usual suspects are simply ignoring the UN-stipulated facts and blaming Israel for what we now know was a Lebanese act of murder. From Jenin to Gaza to Lebanon, this pattern is always the same: Never let the truth get in the way of stirring up hate against the Jewish state.

How You Can Make A Difference:

Watch out for incorrectly captioned photos and inaccurate stories in your local media outlets and take action to secure corrections and amendments. To seehow additional Canadian media outlets have reported on this incident, please see the following television, radio, print, and online media reports that have appeared in recent days:

TV: CBC National brief report (Aug. 3) CBC News Network brief report (Aug. 3), CTV National News report by Joanne Clancy (Aug. 3), CTV News Channel interview of Andrea Tenenti of UNIFIL, RDI report by Luc Lapierre (Aug. 3) Radio-Canada report by Luc Lapierre (Aug. 3)

Radio: CBC “World at Six” report by Irris Makler (Aug. 3), CBC “World Report” segment by Ben Gilbert (Aug. 3) Radio-Canada Radio report by Laure Stephan (Aug. 4)

Print: Hamilton Spectator, Victoria Times Colonist, Calgary Herald, Le Soleil, Le Droit, Montreal Gazette (See here and here), La Presse, 24 Heures (here and here), Edmonton Journal, Journal de Quebec (here and here), Daily Gleaner, Globe and Mail, Charlottetown Guardian, La Tribune, Kingston Whig Standard, National Post, Prince Albert Daily Herald, Le Devoir (here and here) The Telegram, Toronto/Edmonton Sun


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