Ombudsman Rebukes CBC Radio-Canada’s Mideast Reporting

By Mike Fegelman

February 17, 2012

Radio-Canada’s Ombudsman upholds a series of five complaints filed by HonestReporting Canada: All reports by journalist Ginette Lamarche violated Radio-Canada’s standards for balance, impartiality and accuracy.



Ombudsman Rebukes CBC Radio-Canada’s Mideast Reporting

By: Michelle Whiteman, Quebec Regional Director February 17, 2012

Dear HonestReporting Canada Subscribers,

In a pointed rebuke of our public broadcaster CBC Radio-Canada and its Mideast correspondent Ginette Lamarche’s recent reporting on Israel, Radio-Canada’s Ombudsman, Pierre Tourangeau, this week upheld a series of five complaints filed by HonestReporting Canada about the network’sMideast coverage.

In the Ombudsman’s 12-page reviewof reports that aired between December 19- 23, 2011, Tourangeau concluded that Lamarche’s reports violated Radio-Canada’s standards for balance, impartiality and accuracy (one of these reports was corrected by Radio-Canada prior to the Ombudsman’s review). Significantly, Tourangeau found a lack of “diversity of opinion” as required for news coverage of controversial subjects, use of unverified facts and failure to challenge claims which led to “at least an appearance of bias”. Tourangeau recommended, given the scope of the review, that the management of Radio-Canada engage in substantive discussions over its methodology.

HonestReporting Canada objected to a December 19 radio report where journalist Lamarche (pictured right) interviewed two recently released Palestinian youths, one of whom claimed to have spent three years in jail for throwing stones. In this report, Lamarche reported that “many Palestinians spend a good part of their youth in jail for participating in a demonstration or throwing stones” without corroborating this information with a credible source. HRC obtained the list of released Palestinian prisoners which revealed that no ‘youths’ (Palestinians under 24 years of age) had been incarcerated for three years solely for throwing stones. Rather, convicted stone throwers were incarcerated for an average of seven months, the longest sentence consisting of 15 months. HRC asserted that this did not constitute “a good part of one’s youth”. HRC also objected to the suggestion that the act of participating in peaceful demonstrations leads to incarceration. The Ombudsman concluded that this report was inaccurate as the journalist should have corroborated the length of stay in prison with official sources, brought an Israeli perspective into the story, and attributed the claims to the interviewees.

HRC also objected to a December 20 radio report about the arrests of Palestinians following the Shalit exchange. In this report, the narrator declared: “Since the exchange of prisoners following the release of Gilad Shalit in October, Israel imprisoned practically the same number of people it released”. HRC disputed this claim which was unverified by the reporter and has been denied by a spokesperson for the Israel Prison Authority. As well, HRC objected to Radio-Canada’s reliance on the statistics of Adameer (or Al-Dameer),a well-known pro-Palestinian NGO which has been accused of anti-Israel demonization. The Ombudsman agreed that this report breached Radio-Canada’s guidelines for accuracy as the statement was not attributed to Adameer, that this reporter did not properly describe this group as an NGO, a pro-Palestinian group or a Palestinian organization and, in reporting that Adameer “condemns the brutal and arbitrary arrests”, the reporter failed to attribute these statements to Adameer, instead leading the listener to assume these statements were necessarily correct.

A December 22, 2011 radio report entitled “The Year 2011 in the Middle East”, saw Radio-Canada’s Ginette Lamarche introduce the subject of a Palestinian Arab Spring by stating: “Since the Naqba… this is the creation of the State of Israel in 1948”. The term Naqba is a Palestinian term meaning “catastrophe” and refers to the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. However, Ms. Lamarche did not attribute this term to the Palestinian narrative of Israel’s creation, leaving the listener to assume the creation of Israel was indeed a catastrophe, at least from Radio-Canada’s point of view. HonestReporting Canada asked for a clarification in light of this unattributed statement and Radio-Canada laudably admitted and corrected this error prior to revision by the Ombudsman.

Finally, HRC objected to two other reports, one of which aired on the Désautels radio show on December 23, on the situation of Christians in Bethlehem. Lamarche stated that “since the construction of the wall (separation) in 2003, residents of Bethlehem cannot leave Bethlehem without permission.” She also stated that “the wall, settlements (Jewish settlement) that encircle Bethlehem prevent it from developing and pushes Palestinian Christians to flee the city where Jesus was born.” Lamarche also reported as fact that proceeds from tourism in Bethlehem were “slim for Palestinians of Bethlehem even if the number of tourists has increased”. In addition to challenging the claims made in these statements, HRC objected to the lack of context in the report, specifically, to the terrorist attacks from the West Bank which took the lives of more than 1,100 Israelis and prompted construction of a security fence. HRC objected to the omission of other factors causing Christians to leave Bethlehem, such as Muslim persecution of Christians. Finally, HRC objected to this reporter’s assertion that Bethlehem’s proceeds from tourism “are slim due to Israel control(ling) tourism”. The Ombudsman agreed that it was inaccurate to state that authorization is required to leave Bethlehem, or to state it is cut off from the rest of the West Bank. The Ombudsman stated that comments regarding tourism should have been attributed to the interviewer and not stated as fact.

The Ombudsman concluded his review by recognizing the challenges inherent in field reporting, but stated that the five reports nevertheless failed to meet one or other of the standards of accuracy, balance, and impartiality called for by Radio-Canada’s Journalistic Standards and Practices. He criticized these reports for not containing a “diversity of opinion” as required when controversial views, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, are addressed. He stated that the reports only offered a Palestinian viewpoint, that the reporter did not verify claims nor did she challenge claims or data submitted to her. Rather, on a few occasions, she reported claims as fact. For these reasons, the Ombudsman concluded these reports led to “at least an appearance of bias”. He also remarked that with little effort, the reports could have been more consistent with Radio-Canada’s guidelines, by making the text more accurate, attributing statements, employing contrary views or having the journalist challenge statements. Finally, the Ombudsman expressed the hope that, given the scope of his review, the management at Radio-Canada and its journalist will engage in substantive discussions regarding its arguments and methodology.

This is not the first time Lamarche has been reprimanded by the Ombudsman. Lamarche has previously come under fire by other organizations such as CIJA which only a few months ago saw Radio-Canada’s Ombudsman rule that several of her reports on the Middle East lacked accuracy and impartiality.

We are appreciative of Ombudsman Tourganeau’s rulings and concur with his recommendations. 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.




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