Video of injured Palestinian man

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services

Summary

The complainant said a CBC Television report on The National was inaccurate in portraying an injured Palestinian because of subsequent video showing him seemingly uninjured. There was not a violation of CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices.

On November 14, 2012, CBC Television’s The National carried a report by Middle East correspondent Saša Petricic following an Israeli airstrike in Gaza that killed Ahmed Jabari, a Hamas commander in the region.The National’s host, Peter Mansbridge, referred to the violence as the worst in recent times.

The report noted how Israel had claimed responsibility for the killing and that both sides in the dispute had intensified their airstrikes.

Amid the footage was video provided by the Reuters news agency of a Palestinian man being carried from the carnage. It occupied about two seconds in the three-minute segment.

The complainant, Mike Fegelman, is executive director of HonestReporting Canada, a media watchdog on Middle East coverage. He wrote CBC News November 15, 2012, and pointed out that subsequent video aired by the British Broadcasting Corporation clearly showed the seemingly injured man recovered and walking around. The CBC report thus featured “staged and fraudulent” footage to vilify Israel, Fegelman wrote.

Fegelman wrote again November 18 and noted that CNN had recognized the changed health condition of the Palestinian man in the footage. Host Anderson Cooper said CNN had asked Reuters about the video and that Reuters had not gathered any footage featuring the man walking around. It did not know the origin of that image and whether it was taken before or after the footage it collected of the man being carried away. Cooper said that, because of the uncertainty, CNN had decided it would not use either image again.

Fegelman wrote again November 23 and indicated that Radio-Canada had responded to his complaint and had followed CNN’s approach in concluding that, because there was some doubt about the authenticity of the imagery, it would not use it in future. It had published an online statement to this effect.

Jennifer McGuire, the editor in chief of CBC News, wrote back February 3, 2013, and apologized for the time it had taken to respond. She emphasized the report was not designed “to portray Israel in any particular light.” Rather, she said, it reported the increased violence factually and without bias.

McGuire wrote that CBC News had sought more information about the Reuters footage, which was about a half-hour in length. She acknowledged it showed the man carried from the scene of violence, treated by the side of the road, then walking around. While he was not bleeding, “the absence of such visible wounds is not evidence of fakery,” McGuire wrote. “It does not preclude his being concussed or stunned, for example, and recovering sufficiently half an hour later to be standing.”

Fegelman wrote back March 10 and asked for a review.

(Given that the report aired when the current CBC Ombudsman was Executive Editor of CBC News, the complaint was referred to the former Ombudsman, now the Office’s Special Advisor, under a protocol established by CBC to avoid conflicts of interest.)

CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices call for accurate, fair and impartial reporting, along with clear presentation of material.

The policy says CBC News does not hesitate to correct “significant” errors when they occur. It adds: “The fact that a situation has evolved so that information that was accurate at the time of its publication is no longer accurate does not mean that an error was committed, but we must consider the appropriateness of updating it, taking into account its importance and impact.”

Conclusion

The report was fair and accurate. It blended information about airstrikes and their impact, along with statements from the disputing parties, to provide a reasonable picture of a violent and changing region.

Part of the determination of its fairness and accuracy involved understanding whether the footage of the injured man was staged for the camera. The unaired Reuters footage of the man seemingly uninjured raised a legitimate question about whether he had been injured initially in the footage CBC aired.

In correspondence, CBC’s director of journalistic standards and practices, David Studer, said CBC News staff in Jerusalem discussed the matter with the photojournalist Reuters used in the region. The photojournalist recalled that the man was initially “stunned or concussed” by the blasts and pulled from the scene, but sufficiently recovered to return to look for friends and family and what else might be salvaged from the scene.

It is true, as the complainant noted, that some organizations addressed the question of possibly contradictory images. I note that they did not pass judgment or express an apology — they could not determine the truth of the matter — but decided they couldn’t rebroadcast the images in an uncertain context based on what they knew then.

Such practices of minimizing harm and providing accountability have much to recommend.

But CBC News went further than the others and later dealt directly with the local photojournalist. It gathered better information than did the other organizations and reached what I agreed was a better conclusion: The man was injured but recovered. The early image CBC broadcast of the man being pulled from the scene was not inaccurate.

Given that CBC did not show the later image of the man walking around, there was no need to clarify the matter for its audience. What the audience saw was not confusing and what others aired cannot be the responsibility of CBC News to address.
There was no violation of CBC News Journalistic Standards and Practices.

Kirk LaPointe
Special Advisor to the Office of the Ombudsman