As a primary lens through which Canadians learn about the world, the CBC is obligated to report honestly, accurately and with due context. Last week, we saw terror come to our nation’s capital. On the same day that Michael Zehaf Bibeau brazenly killed Corporal Nathan Cirillo, a Hamas terrorist deliberately ran over and killed a 3-month old Israeli baby and an Ecuadorean woman in Jerusalem, along with injuring nine people.
Canadian media outlets rightly condemned Zehaf Bibeau as a “terrorist”. How did the CBC, our public broadcaster, report on the incident of terror in Jerusalem? Its website carried an article on October 23 headlined “Jerusalem mayor vows to calm city after baby killed“ with sub-headlines saying only “Baby girl died after Palestinian motorist slammed car into light rail train station” and “Driver killed by police”.
CBC adroitly avoided calling terror by its rightful name and used the passive voice, leading readers to likely conclude that this incident was simple vehicular manslaughter. CBC could have carried a more accurate headline like: “Hamas Attack in Jerusalem Kills 3-Month-Old Baby Girl”.
In an HRC complaint sent to the CBC mere hours after this report was published, we told our public broadcasters that headlines are read more often than the body of the actual article its associated with. CBC editors who packaged this Associated Press report with its own headlines, could not bring itself to label this incident in its headlines as a terror attack, or even an “attack” per say. For CBC, the shooting of a “driver” rather than the actions of a terrorist were deemed more newsworthy. Meanwhile, the Canadian government was unequivocal in its outright condemnation of this incident as a “terror attack”.
On October 24, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird released the following statement:
“I was shocked and saddened to learn of Wednesday’s abhorrent terrorist attack in Jerusalem, which killed a baby girl and left several others injured. On behalf of all Canadians, I offer our deepest sympathies to the girl’s family and wish a speedy recovery to the injured.
“Canada calls on all members of the international community to speak out against such violent terrorist acts. We are also concerned about reports of increasingly violent clashes in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
“Today, I spoke with Avigdor Lieberman, my Israeli counterpart, to discuss this situation and a number of other security issues. I was grateful for his thoughts and prayers regarding the shooting in Ottawa.”
Of importance, Hamas itself confirmed that the driver in the Jerusalem terror attack was its own member, and the BBC, who’s reporting is traditionally hostile towards Israel, did at least use the word “attack” in its headline “Palestinian car attack claims second victim”.
It was perfectly clear that this incident was not a simple road traffic accident, and yet, the CBC placed the emphasis on the vehicle rather than the terrorist driver behind the wheel. This was clearly not a case of vehicular manslaughter, but of intentional terror against innocents.
We called on the CBC to amend these headlines to produce more fair coverage, regrettably, the CBC defended its reporting. Jack Nagler, the CBC’s Director of Journalistic Public Accountability and Engagement, said that “The article was accurate, balanced and provided appropriate context. The headline was accurate, and did not mislead anyone about the nature of the story.”
Nagler wrote to HRC that “One thing is for sure: there was no inclination to minimize the violent intent of someone deliberately ramming their car into a crowded transit stop. That’s one reason the sub-headline provides a clue to the political dimension of the incident when it notes that the motorist was Palestinian. We would not report on someone’s race or ethnicity in a simple traffic accident unless it was crucial to the story. The full AP article, of course, makes perfectly clear in a more detailed way about the broader range of issues arising from this incident. Could the headline have retained the word “attack” and still been accurate? Sure. But the word’s absence in the headline is not indicative of anything, really, other than someone trying to make the story more powerful.”
In response, HRC pointed out that CBC raised the issue of inaccuracy, while we pointed to general unfairness, mainly because CBC failed to refer to the incident as an “attack” in its headlines. While Mr. Nagler claimed that “The headline was accurate, and did not mislead anyone about the nature of the story,” we noted that he was not in a position to objectively make such a conclusion as he doesn’t know that the headline did or did not mislead anyone about the nature of the story.
Was the headline accurate, yes. However, it was incomplete, unfair, and a misleading headline, plain and simple. What is especially troublesome is that CBC made no effort to clarify or amend matters when given the opportunity, nor did it even acknowledge that the headline could have been better. CBC and all media, should be tasked with always striving to produce news coverage that informs and does not mislead its readers and viewers. Tasked with providing the most accurate information so that its readers and viewers can come to their own conclusions.
CBC did not live up to its own standards as this headline mislead readers and did not provide the most accurate information available. We hope that a forthcoming CBC’s Ombudsman review will acknowledge the shortcomings of the CBC’s reporting on this incident.
If you would like to communicate your concerns to the CBC, emails can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org