Attack on the Mavi Marmara

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services

Summary

Coverage of the Israeli attack on the ship Mavi Marmara

You wrote initially in late June, 2010, to CBC News complaining about the coverage of the Israeli attack on the ship Mavi Marmara. You said that the coverage on “(CBC.ca) showed a level of incompetence or bias that was unacceptable. You wrote that the “Freedom Flotilla was a classic non-violent resistance initiative,” and compared it to African-American school children in the United States trying to attend school in the segregated south.

You focused particularly on the headlines of the stories: “Israel Storms Gaza-bound aid ships: Netanyahu says military has his support.” “Israelis on ship acted in self-defence: Netanyahu”; Israeli PM defends ship raid”; “Ship militants prepared for fight: Netanyahu.”

You also pointed out that communications to the ship had been jammed and you recounted some of the background to the story, as you saw it, concerning conditions in Gaza, among other things.

Esther Enkin, the Executive Editor of CBC News, responded. She wrote, in part, “it is not for CBC to determine the nature of Israel's action. And we did not. In fact, as it ran on the CBC News.ca pages, the headline read, “Israelis acted in self-defence: Netanyahu”. It is the Israeli prime minister who said his country had acted in ‘self-defence', not CBC.” She added: “CBC's News services on radio, television and the Internet carried extensive coverage of the story in the days that followed the attack. I appreciate that you wrote only a short time afterward and may not have had an opportunity to see (hear or read) many of those stories. But in the coming days, I hope you did. Certainly, the information you indicated was widely included in those stories.”

You were not satisfied with her response, saying, in part: “If you were really interested in balance, you would not repeatedly highlight the claims of one side of the conflict.”

You asked me to review the matter, saying “I have absolutely no doubt that a content analysis of CBC Online reporting for the week of the raid would prove that the coverage was grossly out of balance. Moreover, a ‘discourse analysis' of your texts and headline would prove conclusively that your overall reporting was misleading and a punishable breach of journalistic ethics.”

CBC journalists are supposed to work from three basic principles:

Accuracy The information conforms with reality and is not in any way misleading or false. This demands not only careful and thorough research but a disciplined use of language and production techniques, including visuals.

Integrity The information is truthful, not distorted to justify a conclusion. Broadcasters do not take advantage of their power to present a personal bias.

Fairness The information reports or reflects equitably the relevant facts and significant points of view; it deals fairly and ethically with persons, institutions, issues and events.

Application of these principles will achieve the optimum objectivity and balance that must characterize the CBC's information programs. In the kaleidoscopic atmosphere of breaking news one must always keep in mind the nature of the event. In this case, the attack occurred well away from shore on a ship whose communications had been jammed—a fact noted in a story subsequent to the day the news broke. In your letters you cited several headlines, but did not mention some others that I noted: on June 1: “UN Calls for Gaza ship raid inquiry”; also June 1: “Group challenges Israeli blockade of Gaza”; on June 2: “Gaza flotilla activists back in Turkey; Fresh calls to lift Gaza blockade.” June 3: “Flotilla Activists Unarmed—Canadian”. There are others. While I may not have done the kind of textual analysis to which you made reference, I did read the stories carefully in light of CBC's Journalistic Policy. You are certainly correct that CBC News did not set out to “show Israel in a bad light” as you seem to be suggesting it should. To do that would be pamphleteering, not journalism. What I found in the stories were attempts to report what facts and statements could be gathered and supply some context to the events. This was an exercise in progression: more was added as hard data and new statements became available.

I would note also that in one of your notes you said that CBC.ca did not report on other vessels making their way toward Gaza, yet I found references to the planned second wave of ships.

Any responsible journalistic enterprise must report carefully and, sometimes, sequentially on such breaking stories, adding information as facts become available and attributing properly statements about the events that cannot be independently proven. My reading of the numerous stories between May 31 and June 3 indicates that CBC.ca was making reasonable efforts to do just that.

Conclusion

I find no violation of CBC's Journalistic Standards and Practices.

Vince Carlin
CBC Ombudsman