Middle East

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services


Two complaints about coverage of events in the Middle East

You wrote on separate occasions to complain about CBC coverage of events in the Middle East. On one occasion you took issue with the decision to carry a story concerning Hamas's pursuit of a woman for “un-Islamic” behaviour, while CBC did not cover what you felt was a significant story about the seizure of a ship with relief supplies.

On another occasion—during the Pope's visit to the area—you objected to CBC Radio using the phrase “separation barrier” and citing the Israeli rationale of preventing suicide bombing.

On both occasions, Executive Editor Esther Enkin responded. She said that the Hamas story was certainly a valid story of interest. She did not address the subject of the other story.

As for the barrier, she pointed out the difficulty of finding the “right” word to use; that the CBC generally stayed with “barrier” or “wall.” From time to time, some reporters reference the official explanation from the Israelis for building—to prevent suicide bombings.

You rejected her conclusions in both instances and asked for a review.

It is never easy deciding which stories to cover and which to put aside. Generally speaking, the Ombudsman tries to avoid second-guessing honest news judgment. If a pattern were clearly established that showed a lack of balance or demonstrable unfairness, I would have to note that.

However, when one story is overlooked out of dozens available on any given day and there is clear effort over a reasonable period of time to provide balanced coverage, I can only find in favour of the programmers. Because of the great interest in reporting from the Middle East, I have had more than one occasion to review the coverage provided from the region by CBC journalists. With a few exceptions, the coverage has been as fair and balanced as could be expected with limited resources and airtime. I note that with exponentially more “space” than the average CBC Radio report, The New York Times appears to have done one relatively brief report on the ship seizure. The story may have been of intense interest to you, but editors, and not just CBC editors, appear to have judged that it was not of broad enough interest to warrant coverage.

I have also had occasion to monitor CBC's coverage of the barrier. Over time, the journalists have made considerable effort to use neutral language. In some longer items, I have noted that journalists have, from time to time, referenced Israel's stated reason for its creation. I have also heard stories from the Palestinian or Israeli Arab communities giving different views of the wall. It would seem a commonplace to say that not every story can contain all aspects of any given situation, particularly in the Middle East. You may disagree with Israel's stated intention, but that does not erase the fact that it is Israel's explanation. However, journalists should attribute that view.


CBC News appears to have been exercising ordinary news judgment in selecting items for broadcast. It also appears that, overall, CBC News has made every effort to properly characterize the barrier, the reasons for its creation and the effects of its presence. The single item in question should have contained attribution to the Israeli government.

With that footnote, there has been no substantive violation of CBC's Journalistic Standards and Practices.

Vince Carlin
CBC Ombudsman