CBC Ombud Upholds Complaint Against Al-Jazeera English Reporter (June 12 2009)

By Mike Fegelman

June 12, 2009


CBC Ombud Upholds Complaint Against Al-Jazeera English Reporter June 12, 2009
By: Mike Fegelman, Executive Director
Dear HonestReporting Canada Subscriber,

It’s been recently reported that Al-Jazeera English (AJE) may get regulatory approval from the CRTC to broadcast in Canada by as early as this fall. Its parent company, Al Jazeera Arabic, notorious for its anti-Israel and anti-Semitic content, has been described as “a form of terror TV, an unfettered soapbox for sociopaths,” and that’s putting it lightly.

Canadian Jewish and pro-Israel groups are concerned about AJE’s entrance into Canada and they have every reason to be.

Bernie Farber, CEO of Canadian Jewish Congress, noted recently that “the only true record we have of Al-Jazeera is the parent Arabic station, which has broadcast anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.” Likewise, Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Canada-Israel Committee, said that Al-Jazeera has a record of advancing “a skewed narrative of the past and present without regard for objectivity or the journalistic standards we have established in Canada.” Frank Dimant, executive vice-president of B’nai Brith Canada, said that “the introduction of an English-language Al-Jazeera into Canadian homes can only provide yet another outlet for vicious anti-Israel propaganda. Al-Jazeera may masquerade as an unbiased, neutral media outlet, but it is fooling nobody.”

HonestReporting Canada echoes these views. We are apprehensive that AJE will be unabashedly anti-Israel, journalistically unfair, inaccurate and unbalanced, and may potentially carry content which exposes Jews to hatred and anti-Semitism. We have relayed our concerns to the CRTC and to the Canadian sponsor of AJE, Ethnic Channels Group Ltd.

These concerns are not just drawn from mere suspicions or whims, instead, they are based on AJE’s already troubling track record of news coverage which we feel has not complied with the CRTC’s own journalistic standards and practices, coupled with the network’s troubling relationship with its parent company.

Case #1: AJE Reporter Misses the “Target”

Following the recent war between Israel and Hamas this past January, one of our members, Mr. Michael Bloomfield, flagged a January 6 AJE report which aired on CBC Newsworld for being unfair and inaccurate.

In the report, AJE Gaza correspondent Mr. Ayman Mohyeldin recounted complaints from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the UN that some of their workers were being wounded and killed, but Mr. Mohyeldin went a step further and stated by some unknown veracity that “they have obviously been targeted” by the Israelis. Such an allegation implied that Israeli forces were committing war crimes and were conducting activities that went against the Geneva Conventions.

After filing a complaint with the CBC asking the network to provide “irrefutable proof” to support these allegations, Mr. Bloomfield’s concerns were answered by Mr. Vince Carlin, the CBC’s Ombudsman, who concluded in his review on May 28 (see document by clicking here) that this AJE report “did not meet the standards of accuracy and fairness within the CBC’s Journalistic Standards and Practices.

According to Mr. Carlin’s review:

  • “I screened the program segments in question as objectively as I could. One of the crucial questions is whether Mr. Mohyeldin was attributing his comment to the ICRC (or another international agency) or stating it on his own. If he were working as a surrogate CBC journalist, he would have had to fulfill the obligation to prove anything he stated as fact. Were he reporting the views of others, that obligation does not exist.”
  • My first conclusion was that the statement “they have obviously been targeted” was Mr. Mohyeldin’s conclusion. He may have based it on statements from the ICRC or United Nations officials, but it seems clear that, in context, he offered it as a statement of fact.”
  • “The next question is the meaning of “targeted.” While the parsing of “targeted” in Newsworld’s response is undoubtedly accurate as far as it goes, I have to fall back on what a reasonable person watching that broadcast would conclude: not that they had fallen victim of random fire, but that they had been deliberately fired upon despite their vests and other identification.”
  • What is clear is that the clip you referenced did not meet the standards of CBC journalism. Mr. Mohyeldin needed to offer proof that the claim was true, or the anchor needed to offer context to the statement.
This is a stunning acknowledgement by the CBC that the charges levelled by this AJE correspondent were not supported by fact. Ironically, this same reporter, Mr. Ayman Mohyeldin, was lauded as being a “war hero” in a published report in Haaretz. Columnist Gideon Levy described him as “the cherry on top of this journalistic cream,” and Tony Burman, the ex-CBC editor-in-chief and now Managing Editor of AJE, also spoke the praises of Mr. Mohyeldin by reading this “war hero” elegy at an event at the University of Toronto this past February.

Mr. Burman has never been shy about his desire to have Al Jazeera available in Canada. Now the only question remains is whether he will temper his praises of Mr. Mohyeldin given his former CBC colleague’s review chastising his Gaza correspondent.

Case #2: AJE Whitewashes Palestinian Prisoners

On October 24, 2007, CBC Around the World broadcasted a one-sided report by AJE correspondent Jacky Rowland which covered the aftermath of a Palestinian riot in Israel’s Ketziot Prison.

This AJE report featured a broader discussion about Palestinian prisoners where she whitewashed the inmates by describing them as “widely respected fighters against the occupation.” In an HonestReporting Canada alert, we noted that absent from Ms. Rowland’s report was the fact that many of these prisoners have “blood on their hands,” Israel’s term for people involved in attacks against Israelis.

No reference was made that many of these prisoners were jailed for conducting terror attacks against Israelis, and therefore many of them, in the parlance of the Israeli-Arab conflict, have “blood on their hands.” As a result of this AJE report presenting only the Palestinian perspective, CBC viewers were left with the impression that most Palestinian prisoners are political prisoners, not gunmen, bombers, etc., who have been unjustly detained by Israeli prison authorities.

Ms. Rowland’s report also failed to put any Israeli officials on camera to provide an alternative perspective on the nefarious backgrounds of some of the Palestinian prisoners. Overall, the report failed to provide necessary context about the terror resumes and rap sheets of Palestinian prisoners and instead presented them as “widely respected fighters against the occupation.”

How We Can Make a Difference:

In the past, the CRTC heeded complaints about possible incitement with Al Jazeera, the parent company of AJE, and stipulated that interested cable providers must ensure that AJ broadcasts did not violate Canadian hate laws and that they must keep round the clock recordings of all of its broadcasts. In answering the CRTC’s call for comments on whether to give Al-Jazeera English its license to broadcast in Canada, we asked the CRTC to impose the aforementioned strict provisions along with other new quality control protocols to ensure that the network adheres to its responsibilities.

Should AJE come to Canada, HonestReporting Canada will be vigilant in ensuring that AJE complies with the CRTC’s standards. We look forward to working with our 23,000 members and other community organizations in a united front to oppose this threat.



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