Conflict in Gaza

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services

Summary

The complaint involved CBC's coverage of the violence in the Gaza. I did not find a violation of CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices.

Summary: The complaint involved CBC's coverage of the violence in the Gaza. I did not find a violation of CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices.

In mid-November CBC News across its broadcast and online platforms covered the renewal of extensive violence in the Gaza.

The complainant, Smadar Carmon, wrote November 15 to criticize the scope of the coverage. While Carmon did not mention any specific program, she concluded: “You only cover Gaza when there are Israeli causalities involved but rarely cover the context of it all. This seriously makes me question your integrity on other issues.”

She added that she expected more than “superficial coverage of the news” from the region from the public broadcaster.

Esther Enkin, the executive editor of CBC News, wrote back November 26 and said that around the time of Carmon's complaint there was exactly the sort of equitable coverage sought.

“The point is that while coverage of a conflict such as this is continuous, emphasis will shift from one particularly significant event or incident to another,” Enkin wrote. “At one time it may focus on the deaths of Israeli civilians as a rocket hit their apartment, at another it will focus on an especially deadly Israeli attack on Gaza or on fresh efforts for agreement on a ceasefire. Overall, you will find that CBC News has carried – and continues to carry – a range of views and perspectives, certainly including those of the Palestinians.”

Enkin added: “But let me emphasize that balance does not necessarily mean some sort of mathematical equivalency. Balance does not, for instance, mean that every Israeli voice must be immediately juxtaposed with an equally strong Palestinian voice. CBC's rigorous journalistic policy acknowledges that balance is a more sophisticated concept that can be achieved over a series of programs or over a period time. And I believe we are doing that.”

She concluded: “What lies at the heart of the notion of fairness in journalism is the equitable expression of differing points of view on controversial matters. Simply, we expect CBC journalists to report the facts accurately and to elicit comments and opinions from those who are involved in the events they are covering. With that information, Canadians may be reasonably expected to evaluate the comments, test them against each other and the facts, and decide whose ‘truth' to believe.”

Carmon wrote again November 27. She asked for a review by this Office of her concerns.

“There is no balance whatsoever between a brutal occupation and the people who have been under this occupation for over 60 years,” she wrote. “Also, what is happening in Palestine/Israel is not really a conflict and by referring to it as such only adds to the confusion. Both the words ‘balance' and ‘conflict' imply that there are two equal sides.”

CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices identify balanced coverage as a goal: “We contribute to informed debate on issues that matter to Canadians by reflecting a diversity of opinion. Our content on all platforms presents a wide range of subject matter and views.”

It adds: “On issues of controversy, we ensure that divergent views are reflected respectfully, taking into account their relevance to the debate and how widely held these views are. We also ensure that they are represented over a reasonable period of time.

On the matter of impartiality, the policy states: “We do not promote any particular point of view on matters of public debate.”

Conclusion

The role of the Office of the Ombudsman is to assess complaints about specific content — not to conduct broader or thematic reviews — in the context of CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices.

As part of that policy CBC permits balance to be achieved through the presentation of a “wide range of subject matter” — equitably, not necessarily through mathematical equivalence — across its platforms “over a reasonable period of time.”

In this instance I attempted to address the concern of balance within the Office's mandate. I took note of the accuracy of the specific content around the time of the complaint and coupled that with recognition of other content that dealt with the Gaza conflict.

I concluded the focus of that content ranged widely and included episodes of violence instigated by and against parties in the Gaza conflict. That constituted balance under the policy, so there was no violation of CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices.

Kirk LaPointe
CBC Ombudsman