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Media Critiques

CBC Defends Neil Macdonald’s Exploiting CBC News Platforms to Attack Israel

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posted by Mike Fegelman

We recently alerted you to how CBC reporter Neil Macdonald included an irrelevant smear against Israel and Canadian support for the Jewish state in a recent report published on the CBC’s website.

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 managed to twist these unrelated world affairs stories into criticisms of Israel by 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 this question that serves to malign Israel, Canadian support for the Jewish state, and which exonerates Palestinian transgressions and elevates the Palestinian cause.

Our alert also catalogued Macdonald’s historical anti-Israel bias while conveying that he should not be given free rein to use CBC News platforms to advance his personal opinions and apparent contempt for the State of Israel.

In response to the overwhelming response of HRC members who registered complaints with the CBC, Editor-in-Chief Jennifer McGuire defended Macdonald’s comments and altogether ignored his historical anti-Israel bias. Here is an abridged version of her reply, a full version can be read by clicking here:

“Mr. Macdonald invites readers to think about the implications of this hall of mirrors where partisans may believe something other than what they say and posed four hypothetical questions beginning with do Americans believe the U.S. military “has become a haven for sexual predators and just not care?” He asks, “Does the American far right secretly believe climate change really is caused by humans? “In Canada”, he asked, “do Stephen Harper and his most partisan supporters actually think, deep down, that that Israel may actually bear some of the blame for its troubles with the Palestinians?” And finally, he asked, does the NDP secretly think an oil sands pipeline might be “a sensible idea?” He might have asked if the government secretly believes crime rates are dropping or if Toronto’s Mayor Rob Ford is a secret cyclist.

They are all examples used to make a point about political partisans and their beliefs. It’s a provocative notion, fanciful even; hypothetical to be sure, that follows from an effort to explain the paradox at the beginning of the column through the findings of a recent non-partisan study. It says no more about Israel than it does about oil sands policy.

It is certainly not, as a June 21 post on the HonestReporting web page says, “a smear against Israel”, nor does it in any common understanding of the word “malign Israel”. Only by misunderstanding the thrust of the column, or taking his words out of context, could it be said that it “exonerates Palestinian transgressions” or “elevates the Palestinian cause”. It does none of those things, as I hope I have made clear.”

One HRC member who received Ms. McGuire’s reply, Nathan Elberg of Cote St. Luc, Quebec, offered the following retort: “As you say, context is important. This applies as well to placing Mr. Macdonald’s remarks in the context of his general approach to Israel. Had the remarks discussed below come from some other journalist, one might be able to pass it off as an innocuous remark. But given Mr. Macdonald’s track record emphasising that “Israel may actually bear some [most] of the blame for its troubles with the Palestinians,” it is wishful thinking to treat his statement as an innocuous remark used to illustrate a point.”

Elisha Mandel of Richmond Hill, Ontario, asked the CBC’s Ombudsman to arbitrate this matter. His appeal stated the following:

“For starters, while Ms. McGuire contends that Macdonald’s comments (“do Stephen Harper and his most partisan supporters actually think, deep down, that that Israel may actually bear some of the blame for its troubles with the Palestinians?” were harmless fundamentally betrays the truth. She completely ignores HonestReporting’s detailed analysis of his past biased comments about Israel and this context is key, Macdonald’s enmity towards Israel is well documented.

While Ms. McGuire has the temerity to claim that his comments are merely “fanciful”, she does not talk about CBC Standards with respect to analysis and opinion. I note the following Ombud review you wrote recently about when analysis can cross into opinion. You wrote the following:

“under CBC’s Journalistic Standards and Practices experienced journalists are able to make assessments based on facts. That was the case here.”

“CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices has very clear policies 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.” The concern is that by publicly taking a position, the perception of impartiality is eroded because it can “affect the open and honest exploration of the issue.” The policy also does, as Ms McGuire pointed out in her response to you, allow for analysis, and drawing conclusions based on facts: “We provide professional judgment based on facts and expertise. We do not promote any particular point of view on matters of public debate.” The challenge for the audience, and the journalists themselves, is to understand where analysis based on facts and expertise ends, and where it crosses over to opinion.”

CBC policy is clear that even the perception of bias should be avoided.”

I think the matter up for consideration is did this statement constitute personal opinion or analysis? CBC standards dictate that the deciphering factor is that the statement must be “based on facts”. Therefore, are there any facts to support the contention drawn from Macdonald’s question (which was really a declarative statement) that Harper and his “most partisan supporters” deep down fault Israel for the quarrels with the Palestinians? Simply put, there is no evidence or facts to support this claim therefore this is clearly Macdonald’s opinion. Even if it’s to be argued to the contrary, certainly a perception of bias exists and CBC policies say that even that should be avoided.

Without facts to ground this statement, Macdonald has opened himself up (and the CBC) to not only the perception of bias, but the existence of bias.”

CBC Ombudsman Esther Enkin has confirmed that a review will be launched shortly to determine if Macdonald’s statement was adherent to CBC’s Journalistic Standards and Practices.

We will keep you updated once that review is released.

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