Attacks in Israel/Gaza Strip border region

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services

Summary

The complaint involves a concern that only Israeli military attacks were reported in recent episodes of violence in the Israel/Gaza Strip border region. I concluded there was proportional coverage and no violation of CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices.

On March 9, 2012, Israeli forces launched an airstrike that killed Zuhair al-Qaissi, the secretary- general of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), a militant coalition of several armed Palestinian factions.

Israel asserts the PRC is financed and inspired by Hezbollah, the militant group and party based in Lebanon with links to Hamas and whose aim is to obliterate Israel. Israel and the United States describe the PRC as a terrorist organization.

The Israeli military, citing evidence it had gathered, asserted that al-Qaissi was plotting a terror attack. The Israeli airstrike, which also killed al-Qaissi's son-in-law and another militant, spurred rocket attacks by Palestinians and further exchanges with Israel in the days following that were the most intense of this year.

The complainant, Isi Erez, wrote March 13 to assert that CBC's reporting on the matter was selective and had only started when Israel responded to the attack, thus giving “today's news without the context.” Erez said the overall picture was inaccurate.

The executive editor of CBC News, Esther Enkin, wrote back May 1 and said CBC's coverage reflected a sequence of events spurred by the fatal airstrike on al-Qaissi's sedan.

“So while Israel occasionally struck at targets in Gaza over the past few months and the militants sporadically fired rockets into Israel, this engagement was unusual because it was far more intense,” Enkin wrote. “The proximate cause of this flare-up in hostilities was the Israeli military's high profile attack on a Palestinian militant commander. That attack was newsworthy as was the rocket barrage and the events and casualties that followed.”

Erez wrote again and questioned why the sequence would have started March 9 and not sooner to reflect repeated attacks on Israel.

“What perplexes me is the lack of the CBC's coverage of routine shelling of Israeli communities by Palestinians for which Israel does not retaliate,” Erez wrote. “Perhaps the nature of these attacks has become such that it does not seem newsworthy. I understand that news programs can only cover so much content in a limited amount of time, but if it is not interesting or newsworthy enough for the CBC to provide more regular coverage of such routine attacks, it seems doubly offensive for the CBC to then frame a story that involves Israeli attacks in such a lopsided and uneven manner.”

CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices call for proportionate, fair-minded coverage that respects divergent views and even-handedly treats its subjects. “We seek out the truth in all matters of public interest,” the policy says.

Conclusion

It is true, as the complainant suggests, many violent Middle East episodes do not receive coverage. When they are covered, it is helpful to provide context.

In this instance, a deadly missile attack spurred further violence and it was fair and certainly newsworthy for CBC News to allocate resources on the matter. It was valuable that CBC provided background in its reports on radio, television and online as it chronicled the violent exchanges in the days following March 9. In doing so, its audience could better understand why the conflict had intensified.

I cannot agree that CBC only covers such attacks when instigated by one party. I see no evidence to support that assertion.

In this case, there was no violation of CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices.

Kirk LaPointe
CBC Ombudsman