Home Media Action Alerts2014 CBC Issues Tepid Statement of Regret for Disgraceful Headline of Jerusalem Terror Attack

CBC Issues Tepid Statement of Regret for Disgraceful Headline of Jerusalem Terror Attack

by Mike Fegelman

On November 18, we called on the CBC to apologize for its disgraceful headline (see immediately below) that day which deemed it more newsworthy to focus on the fatal shooting of 2 unidentified individuals by Jerusalem police, rather than the actions of Palestinian terrorists or identities of the Israeli Jewish victims and for CBC’s using the word “apparent” in its headline to convey that this might not have even been an act of terror.

As we noted in our alert, CBC owed it to Canadians to fully explain how such a disgraceful and myopic headline got incorporated in their news coverage and disseminated wide and far. We called on CBC to apologize for its journalistic shortcomings and explain in detail specific actions it will take to ensure that an incident like this will never happen again.

By way of a November 19 editorial blog post on the CBC’s website written by Brodie Fenlon, Managing Editor of CBCNews.ca, CBC acknowledged their headline’s shortcomings by saying “We agree that the initial headline should have better conveyed the true essence of the story – and that story was the attack on the synagogue.”

Fenlon explained:

“… we’ve also received a fair bit of criticism over the very first headline we wrote online when the story broke, just after 1 AM Eastern. It read: “Jerusalem police fatally shoot 2 after apparent synagogue attack.”

Those facts were accurate. But the headline upset people who felt it suggested that the police actions were more noteworthy than the fact the synagogue had been attacked. Some of them said that we were disregarding the Israeli victims of this attack, and accused us of injecting an editorial slant.

Their concerns were exacerbated by the fact that as a first headline on a “Breaking News” story, the headline was repeated automatically in a tweet from the official CBC News account.”

CBC also committed to: “… review whether we have enough editorial checks and balances in place in the middle of the night to ensure we put our best foot forward, 24-7.”

While we appreciate that the CBC has publicly recognized its journalistic shortcomings and has instituted an internal review, the CBC’s statement of regret was rather tepid and very few people will ever read this blog post. As of this writing, judging by the fact that only 1 person has commented on this post and with only 1 social media share, few will have ever heard of the CBC’s acknowledgment of its failings as Mr. Fenlon’s statement is not featured prominently on the CBC’s website.

This aside, HonestReporting Canada would like to take this opportunity to thank and commend our subscribers from across Canada who held CBC to account by sending letters of complaint, by calling the CBC directly, and by tweeting their frustrations with the CBC’s coverage.

To see CBCNews.ca Managing Editor Brodie Fenlon’s statement, please click here or read it in full immediately below.

“The Perils of Breaking News” 

By Brodie Fenlon

Managing Editor, CBCnews.ca

The moments when a big story unfolds is one of the most exciting times to be in the newsroom – and also one of the most perilous.

Whether we’re reporting on your radio, television, computer, or smartphone, our goal is to get you the information as quickly, and as accurately, as possible. And in our best moments, we provide just the right context to help you understand what’s happening.

Last month’s shooting in Ottawa was a perfect example of how seriously CBC News takes that challenge. The feedback we have received from across the country and beyond has been very gratifying. People appreciate the soberness of our approach, and the care with which we handled what was known and what wasn’t.

Another recent big, breaking story came in the early hours of yesterday morning, when two Palestinian men attacked a synagogue in Jerusalem, killing five people (others, including one Canadian, were also injured). Israeli police shot and killed the two attackers.

Throughout yesterday, reporter Derek Stoffel and others led our coverage in an exemplary way: explaining what happened, what it meant, and what could happen next.

But we’ve also received a fair bit of criticism over the very first headline we wrote online when the story broke, just after 1 AM Eastern. It read: “Jerusalem police fatally shoot 2 after apparent synagogue attack.”

Those facts were accurate. But the headline upset people who felt it suggested that the police actions were more noteworthy than the fact the synagogue had been attacked. Some of them said that we were disregarding the Israeli victims of this attack,
and accused us of injecting an editorial slant.

Their concerns were exacerbated by the fact that as a first headline on a “Breaking News” story, the headline was repeated automatically in a tweet from the official CBC News account.

We agree that the initial headline should have better conveyed the true essence of the story – and that story was the attack on the synagogue. But let’s keep things in perspective. The editor was trying to emphasize the facts that could be confirmed at that moment. And as more facts rolled in, a clearer picture emerged. Within an hour we had updated the story, written a more appropriate headline, and sent out new tweets to much better reflect the event, and its significance, in the right context. That’s a normal pattern with breaking news, too – the online story had dozens of updates throughout the day.

It was a good example of the perils of reporting on a breaking news story where some key facts were still unclear. By the time most Canadians woke up yesterday morning, our coverage looked and sounded responsible, balanced and comprehensive. That may have been lost on the people retweeting an hours-old breaking news headline as though it were still current. One thing we’ll do is review whether we have enough editorial checks and balances in place in the middle of the night to ensure we put our best foot forward, 24-7.

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