Gaza violence

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services

Summary

The complaint involved a CBC Television report on Gaza violence and concerns there was insufficient background and context. I did not find a violation of CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices.

On November 14, 2012, CBC Television's The National carried a report from Middle East correspondent Saša Petricic on Gaza violence.

The report noted the exchange of rocket fire across the Israeli-Gaza border following the Israeli aerial strike that killed Ahmed Jabari, a Hamas commander, as he drove in his car. The violence was characterized as the worst in the region in years.

Petricic reported the Hamas health ministry said the violence took 10 Palestinian lives, including those of three children. Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, said the attack sent a signal to Hamas and would widen if necessary, perhaps including a ground assault.

Petricic, reporting from Jerusalem, noted the violence had started days earlier when an attack injured four Israeli soldiers. Israel responded with a barrage that killed six. Hamas fired several rockets in retaliation, and while only a few penetrated Israeli defences, they were enough to “cause panic” and result in that day's retaliation.

Petricic reported that in Gaza City and southern Israel there continued to be an exchange of rocket fire, including several that had landed in Israel. Hamas vowed to take the fight into Jerusalem if necessary, and Egypt had withdrawn its ambassador in Tel Aviv and demanded a United Nations debate on the matter.

The complainant, Stephen Tannenbaum, wrote November 15 to say the report was “unbelievably shoddy journalism” that neglected important elements. He asserted that Hamas targeted civilians while Israel's attacks were on military targets. He said civilian deaths were in all cases attributable to Hamas and that CBC “withheld” important information about the damage to Hamas' military.

Jennifer McGuire, the editor in chief of CBC News, wrote Tannenbaum on December 3. She said television reports have to compress a great deal of information. Had he viewed or listened to CBC News in the following days and weeks, he would have consumed several reports that addressed his concerns about context and background.

She said some information about the military impact on Hamas was not available to Petricic in his earlier report. “In any event, I can assure you the information was not ‘withheld.'”

Tannenbaum wrote again December 3 and asked for a review. He added: “So in other words, it is necessary to watch The National and CBC News Network 24/7 in order to get a fair and balanced viewpoint? I don't have time for that. Do your other viewers?”

CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices policy calls for accurate, impartial reporting and for balance to be achieved over a “reasonable” period across the platforms of CBC.

Conclusion

As the complainant notes, the journalistic policy that requires balance to be achieved over a “reasonable” period could be inferred as requiring the audience to consume a broad range of CBC content. Some, like the complainant, view such a requirement as impractical.

In the 2011-12 annual report of this Office, I called for some clarification from CBC News on the standards by which it aims to achieve balance. In its response to the annual report, CBC News has indicated it is developing more public information on this matter.

This television report was part of a significant body of work by CBC News in television, radio and online in mid-November to chronicle the resumption of Gaza military violence.

In committing such resources CBC News was able to deliver background and context in some reports not mentioned in other reports. In doing so, it fulfilled policy.

While the mandate of the Ombudsman does not clearly extend into examining what was not included in CBC content, it can examine whether any notable omission contributed to inaccurate or unfair content that was not later enhanced with other information.

In this instance I did not share the complainant's view that important information was withheld on the impact on Hamas' military capabilities. At the time of the report that information was not apparent. Once the information was available, CBC News promptly reported it. There was no violation of CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices.

Kirk LaPointe
CBC Ombudsman