Responding to concerns expressed by HonestReporting Canada and letter writer Elisha Mandel about a recent Neil Macdonald column that included an irrelevant smear against Israel and Canadian support for the Jewish state, CBC Ombudsman Esther Enkin defended Macdonald’s using CBC news platforms to advance his personal opinions, including his apparent contempt for the State of Israel.
Macdonald’s June 6 analysis piece correlated a story about alleged political bias at the IRS and sexual abuse in the U.S. military to the Middle East conflict. Amazingly, he twisted these unrelated events into criticisms of Israel when stating: “In Canada, do Stephen Harper and his most partisan supporters actually think, down deep, that Israel may actually bear some of the blame for its troubles with the Palestinians?”
As we pointed out in our alert, apart from being gratuitous, this question disguised personal opinion as news by phrasing declarative statements into questions.
There is no evidence to substantiate claims that Canada’s Prime Minister and his “most partisan supporters” deep down assign blame to Israel for the impasses and quarrels with the Palestinians, but Macdonald had no problem raising questions that served to malign Israel, Canadian support for the Jewish state, and which exonerated Palestinian transgressions and elevated the Palestinian cause.
“You are correct that CBC Journalistic policy frowns on its journalists expressing opinion:
Our value of impartiality precludes our news and current affairs staff from expressing their personal opinions on matters of controversy on all our platforms.
However, we also do not expect experienced reporters, especially when writing columns, to refrain from making inferences or drawing conclusions, based on facts. The way it is described in the Journalistic Standards and Practices is “professional judgment based on facts and expertise.”
Part of your concern here is that Mr. Macdonald was making statements without any fact to back it up. The issue as you frame it might be the case if one could agree with the way you and HonestReporting Canada interpret the meaning of the column and this particular example. The point being made is that partisan discussion lacks nuance, and allows for no shade of gray or doubt.
This column was not about Canadian policy vis a vis Israel. It does not imply that supporters of the Harper government position secretly blame Israel for its Palestinian troubles, or that the author is saying that Israel bears full responsibility. He is being provocative, in the same way he is being provocative about NDP rejection of current oil sands policy, by suggesting that partisans can make a case that is not all or nothing, but that mostly they don’t, especially in the U.S. political arena. To see this as a violation of CBC policy would require taking the words literally and out of context and to agree with your characterization of the meaning of the entire piece. In this case I do not and consequently there was no violation of CBC policy.”
In response, Mr. Mandel pointed out the following to the CBC’s Ombudsman: “Mrs. McGuire affirms that a reporter’s statements must be grounded in facts, and yet, Macdonald’s claims that Harper and his supporters blame Israel for the Mideast impasse with the Palestinians has no facts to support the argument and therefore it’s his personal opinion. So I disagree with your analysis totally.”
That is the core issue. The CBC has a policy which cautions journalists from expressing personal opinions on controversial matters. They are permitted to write analysis reports which are based on their experience and knowledge of an issue, but these analyses must be based on facts.
Unless the CBC can proffer evidence to support Neil Macdonald’s “provocative” statement, he has opened himself up (and the CBC) to charges of anti-Israel bias.