MV Mavi Marmara video

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services

Summary

This review involves a complaint that CBC News did not use a relevant video chronicling the Israeli attack on the MV Mavi Marmara during the flotilla to the Gaza in 2010. I did not find a violation of policy.

In May 2010, the Turkish-owned MV Mavi Marmara sailed as part of a flotilla aimed at confronting the Israeli blockade over Gaza. It was boarded May 31 in international waters by Israeli forces. Nine activists were killed and several dozens were injured, while seven Israeli soldiers were injured.

CBC News carried several reports on the incident across its platforms in the hours and days following. It depended initially on second-hand reports and eventually on those onboard, but had no visual evidence of the matter.

The complainant, Kevin Neish, is a Canadian who was onboard the ship. He wrote this Office on March 23, 2011, and referred to an earlier review following a complaint about the limited information available after the Israeli boarding of the ship.

Given that limited information, he wondered why CBC News had not made use of a video smuggled off the ship by filmmaker/activist Iara Lee and made public a week or so following the incident. Neish noted CBC News several times showed Israeli footage but not the video shot by Lee.

The hour-long video was taken before and during the Israeli military action.

Esther Enkin, the executive editor of CBC News, wrote back January 9, 2012, and sincerely apologized for the time it had taken to respond.

Enkin said CBC News is “faced daily with choosing – from among the thousands available in Canada and around the world – the few dozen stories that they feel are the most significant and will be of the greatest interest to Canadians. It is a decision made all the more difficult by the very limited time available in our news programs and scarce space on our web pages. I am sure you understand that we cannot include all, or even many, of the stories taking place around the world.”

She added: “I should emphasize, however, that the absence of this footage (or a story about it) from our news programs or web site should not be taken to suggest a lack of balance in our coverage. I think it is fair to say that CBC broadcast hours of thoughtful, thorough and innovative coverage of the incident – including interviews with you – that offered a wide range of perspectives on the event.”

Neish said he could not understand why the only video from the ship would not have been used, considering the frustration expressed by media (including once by CBC itself) about the lack of access to video of the episode.

He said the video was released at a June 2010 news conference at the United Nations and believed CBC had been invited to attend.

He asked for a review of the matter and said CBC could use the video on the second anniversary of the episode later in 2012.

CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices call for even-handed, respectful and diligent coverage of controversial issues.

“We do not promote any particular point of view on matters of public debate,” the policy says.

Its policy on war, terrorism and natural disasters adds: “Scenes of violence and suffering are part of our coverage of wars, disaster, crime and conflict.”

The CBC Ombudsman website indicates that the Office can “make recommendations, but has no say in programming or editorial decisions or in management of personnel.”

Conclusion

Most reviews are about what happened, not about what didn't happen. But a complaint about absent information can be a matter for review if the content was evidently available and somehow critical in the production of journalism that ultimately violated policy — that is, if a specific choice might have meant the difference in meeting or missing standards. I might add that is a very difficult link to make.

Thus, whether I believe the video would have been a worthwhile addition to the stable of information is beside the point if I could not first conclude the journalism failed to meet standards.

Moreover, such a review needs to be balanced with respect for the principle of CBC News operational independence on moment-by-moment decision-making on which content to gather and use and how.

There must also be a practical recognition that, when thousands of decisions are made daily, some information might not to find its way to stories through no fault or design. In journalism everywhere, a lot falls innocently into the cracks.

In this instance, an extensive body of work from CBC News across its platforms and programs on the flotilla and the military intervention met the test of policy. The various parties to the dispute were represented in several segments on radio and television and several stories online and the audience had ample information upon which to draw conclusions.

Kirk LaPointe
CBC Ombudsman