Iranian President's remark calling for Israel to be "wiped off the map"

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services

Summary

Controversy surrounding Iranian President's remark calling for Israel to be “wiped off the map”

You wrote to complain of several instances when a CBC journalist made the statement that Iran's President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had “repeatedly called for Israel to be wiped off the map.” You said that this was an “errant bit of nonsense” already refuted by reputable authorities.

The Executive Editor of CBC News, Esther Enkin, replied that, while there has been “considerable controversy over what he actually said, what he meant, whether or not his remarks have been accurately translated and whether they constitute an immediate threat,” she felt that “the preponderance of evidence and the consensus fall on the side of the translation included in the CBC story.”

You rejected her explanation and asked for a review.

As it happens, I have already done a review on this subject. I will take the liberty of repeating some of that analysis here:

The first thing that should be noted about the “wipe off the map” controversy is that the initial translation was done by the “official” Iranian news service. Under normal circumstances it would not be bizarre to assume that their translators had a fairly good sense of their Prime Minister's intentions. People have pointed out that some of the words used in the translation do not exist in Farsi. As I am sure you know, good translations are not word for word, but more flowingly idiomatic. So the key element is the intention of the speaker.

Despite the presumed closeness of the official news agency to government officials, I think we have to accept the subsequent explanations that it was not Ahmadinejad's intention to call for military action. Rather, he said subsequently, it was merely a repeat of the wish of Ayatollah Khomeini that the “regime” in Israel would disappear after one country was created, including the Palestinians. One should note that Mr. Ahmadinejad's sophistry surrounding the Holocaust leaves ample room for less tolerant interpretations.

I concluded that Mr. Ahmadinejad's exact intentions in relation to Israel's continued existence are not clear and that it would have been more accurate for a CBC journalist to attribute such comment to those who believe that is what the Prime Minister meant, rather than stating it as fact.

While Ms. Enkin is correct that some serious and thoughtful journalists have been comfortable with stating flatly that Mr. Ahmadinejad wants to “wipe Israel off the map,” I feel that without first-hand knowledge on such an explosive issue, CBC journalists should follow the dictates of policy and state what they know as fact, and attribute appropriately that which is in dispute.

Conclusion

Particularly on such emotional issues, care should be taken to report clearly and carefully within the strictures of CBC's Journalistic Standards and Policies.

Vince Carlin
CBC Ombudsman