Essay about impact of 9/11 on Middle East politics

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services

Summary

This review concerns a CBC.ca essay on Middle East politics by CBC's Senior Washington correspondent. It found the essay fair but agreed with CBC News and the complainant it could have been labeled as “analysis” for the reader's benefit.

On August 25, 2011, CBC.ca carried an essay examining the impact of the so-named 9/11 attacks on Middle East politics as its 10th anniversary approached. It was written by Neil Macdonald, CBC's Senior Washington Correspondent who had been stationed in CBC's Jerusalem bureau and traveling near Jericho at the time of the attacks.

Macdonald's essay examined the initial Palestinian response to 9/11 and how events that day changed most everything for Arabs in the region.

The complainant, Mike Fegelman, is the executive director of HonestReporting Canada, a watchdog on Middle East issues “dedicated to defending Israel against prejudice in the media.” He is a regular correspondent with CBC News and with this Office. His organization's website critiques media coverage of the Middle East and encourages financial and other support for its efforts.

Fegelman wrote CBC News on September 7, 2011, to outline several of his concerns about the essay's perspectives. He was seeking a “policy clarification about a classification” of the essay. He noted that it had not been labeled an “analysis” piece, whereas two other essays by journalists Brian Stewart and Henry Champ had been.

Esther Enkin, the executive editor of CBC News, wrote Fegelman on November 22. She apologized for the time it had taken to respond. In her email Enkin said CBC permits its senior journalists at times to “make judgment calls. In other words, they are free to reach conclusions, to develop a point of view, if you will, based on facts, on the evidence they collect. That was the case here.”

She noted: “While you are right that CBC policy expects journalists to refrain from expressing their own views or advocating a point of view, it does not preclude experienced journalists from bringing their knowledge and background to bear on a controversial issue and drawing conclusions based on that evidence. Posting the article under the heading ‘Analysis' might have made that clearer.”

Fegelman asked for a review of that issue November 29.

CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices call for an impartiality that does “not promote any particular point of view on matters of public debate.”

The policy on expressing opinions notes: “We are guided by the principle of impartiality. We provide our audience with the perspectives, facts and analysis they need to understand an issue or matter of public interest. CBC journalists do not express their own personal opinion because it affects the perception of impartiality and could affect an open and honest exploration of an issue. We maintain the same standards, no matter where we publish— on CBC platforms or in other media outside the CBC.”

When an opinion is expressed, “it is clearly labeled” and “does not misrepresent other points of view.”

But it notes: “Our value of impartiality precludes our news and current affairs staff from expressing their personal opinions on matters of controversy on all our platforms.”

Conclusion

The principle of impartiality for CBC journalists is not lost when they provide analyses based on facts, particularly in this case involving facts gathered by the journalist highly familiar with Middle East issues.

The policy creates a boundary of the expression of personal opinion but leaves open opportunity in some instances for journalists to synthesize and reflect upon facts in an issue. This boundary is sensible in light of the public's trust that CBC journalists do not inject personal views into their professional work. I doubt there is any more stringent boundary in Canadian media.

But I agree with CBC News that the essay could have been labeled by CBC.ca as an analytical piece to better fulfill journalistic policy. Through no fault of the writer, this was not done.

Kirk LaPointe
CBC Ombudsman