Ombud Rebukes CBC for Interview Accusing Israel of Using Chemical Weapons on Palestinian Children

June 10, 2013

In a landmark ruling, CBC Ombudsman Esther Enkin upheld HonestReporting Canada and its members concerns finding that CBC’s April 26 airing of accusations claiming Israel used chemical weapons on Palestinian children, did not live up to the CBC’s journalistic standards. 

The CBC Ombudsman’s June 4 review was launched to arbitrate HonestReporting Canada subscribers Richard Blaquiere, Donald Lapowich, and Marc Koplowitz’s dissatisfaction with CBC Editor-in-Chief Jennifer McGuire’s defending of the public broadcaster’s airing of the accusation in the first place and her refusal to make amends for the CBC’s actions.

As we noted in our recent alert, Ms. McGuire speculated that anti-Israel activist Tracy Glynn was referring to white phosphorous munitions in her interview aired on CBC Radio’s “Information Morning Fredericton” program. However, as we told the CBC’s Ombudsman, few who heard Glynn’s statement on the radio would believe that by the term “chemical weapons,” she was referring to the relatively benign white phosphorous. In the context of killing children, it was a smear by any standard leaving a majority of people to think Israel intentionally used either Sarin, Mustard Gas, VX and/or other nerve agents on innocent Palestinian children.

We noted that it apparently never occurred to Ms. McGuire, the CBC’s most senior editor, that their interviewer had an obligation to ask anti-Israel activist Tracy Glynn what she meant by her statement instead of leaving it up to the listener’s imagination. We also relayed that it was disconcerting that CBC took the position that interview sources need not be challenged on the accuracy of their statements.

In her review, the CBC’s Ombudsman found that McGuire’s white phosphorous defense was “almost beside the point.” Enkin agreed with our contention that “… it would be safe to say that most people hearing the term “chemical weapon” do think of the nasty gases and nerve agents referred to in this brief explanation.”

The Ombudsman review noted the following: 

“On the Fredericton morning show, there was no context and no discussion of what was meant in this case. The format worked against it – the host was introducing a pre-packaged statement from Ms Glynn. In a live situation, he could have asked for an explanation or challenged the use of the term. But someone did record and prepare that statement for broadcast.”

“At the end of the segment, the host solicited audience reactions to what had just been broadcast, and to the opening of the art exhibit itself. While no reaction to the show was forthcoming, the next week CBC management received several complaints. The program could have responded on air to those complaints and pointed out the concerns about using the term chemical weapons.”

In her conclusion, the Ombudsman referred to the “Responsibility and Accountability related to Interviews” section of the CBC’s journalistic guidelines saying “… But while expressing that opinion, she stated something that had no context, and was certainly highly controversial. As Ms McGuire stated, no one has ever accused either side in the Middle East conflict of using gases or weapons of mass destruction. Without context, the audience likely would have thought they were hearing exactly that accusation. The policy says “CBC takes responsibility for the consequences of its decision to publish a person’s statement in the context it chooses.” In this case, CBC news did not live up to that responsibility.”

Importantly, the Ombudsman affirmed that “No matter who says it, CBC News is responsible for statements made on its airwaves.”

HonestReporting Canada would like to express its appreciation for CBC Ombudsman Esther Enkin’s diligent adjudication of our concerns. We are hopeful that this decision will encourage our public broadcaster to engage in a serious examination of how it conducts its reporting on Israel and the Middle East. We would also like to thank all HRC members, specifically HRC letter writers Richard Blaquiere, Donald Lapowich, and Marc Koplowitz, who complained to the CBC. These grassroots efforts were instrumental in getting this positive result.

Once again, you have affirmed that HonestReporting Canada’s efforts in combining media monitoring and grassroots mobilization can achieve demonstrable results. While one person alone may not make a difference, but a network of thousands united can be effective in fighting media bias against Israel.

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