Blame Game: A passing reference to a controversial shooting was just that. It didn't and couldn't address questions of innocence or guilt. As always, context counts.

The Executive Director of HonestReporting Canada, Mike Fegelman, didn’t like the phrasing of a reference to the Jerusalem police shooting of a Palestinian man. There is controversy over what happened in that incident. He thought the way it was referenced in a piece that was actually about the Har Nof attacks left the impression the man was innocent. The language was neutral; the reference was passing. There was no policy violation.

COMPLAINT

In your capacity of Executive Director of HonestReporting Canada you expressed concern that a remark in a report by Derek Stoffel was misleading. He was reporting on the aftermath of the murder and injury of Israeli Jews at prayer at a synagogue in Har Nof, Jerusalem. The two Palestinian perpetrators were killed.

After reporting on that day’s events, Mr. Stoffel made reference to the fact that this was the latest in a series of bloody incidents. He mentioned one incident about the shooting of a Palestinian man by Israeli police. He stated:

Six other Israelis have been killed by Palestinians in recent weeks. Palestinians say they’ve also been the victims of violence at the hands of Israelis, including the police shooting of a young Palestinian man earlier this month. Much of the anger stems from a dispute over a contested Jerusalem holy site.

You were concerned that by leaving out the fact that the young Palestinian was holding a knife at the time he approached a police car, and that the footage shown also does not reveal this fact, it creates a false impression of what happened. You pointed out that there is controversy in Israel about this shooting, with some politicians defending the shooting and others criticizing the police for not following protocol. In follow-up correspondence you were concerned that after viewing this segment of the report, an “average viewer” and therefore some CBC viewers “might…wrongly conclude that Israeli police had shot and killed an innocent (even unarmed) Palestinian youth. An event which may have and which still could, incite Palestinians to commit violence. I think there’s a high likelihood viewers would come to this false conclusion because Derek never did mention, nor did the CBC show video, allegedly showing the knife attack.”

As a remedy you asked CBC News to issue a clarification to “acknowledge that the incident isn’t so cut and dry…as a simple police shooting of a young Palestinian man.”

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

The CBC News Director of Journalistic Public Accountability and Engagement, Jack Nagler, responded to your request. He told you he reviewed the clip and would not be issuing a clarification. He said that Mr. Stoffel is very careful in his wording of this reference in his story:

He attributes to Palestinians the notion that they have been victims of violence, rather than accepting that characterization himself. He describes the shooting briefly but simply; he does not cast blame or aspersion on the police officer.

He added that getting into the dispute about this shooting would have taken away from the purpose of this particular story, and might have taken “attention away from the day’s tragic events at the synagogue.” He explained the mention of the earlier incident was to explain to the audience why tensions in the region are so high at the moment.

REVIEW

The sentence you are challenging, and the interpretation you bring to it, is a single reference in a story that is about something else entirely. It almost exclusively focuses on the horrible events of the day, the attack on men at prayer, resulting in four deaths and many injured. The reference to the earlier incident, the shooting of a young Palestinian by Israeli police, is in the context of a brief explanation of the escalating violence and tensions in Jerusalem. Mr. Stoffel’s script says:

Today’s incident is yet more bloodshed in a region that has seen violence almost every day for the last four months. Six other Israelis have been killed by Palestinians in recent weeks. Palestinians say they’ve also been the victims of violence at the hands of Israelis, including the police shooting of a young Palestinian man earlier this month. Much of the anger stems from a dispute over a contested Jerusalem holy site.

The report then goes on to show a demonstration by people who want the Israeli authorities to do more to stop these attacks. To have inserted more information about the disputed circumstances of the police shooting would have steered the piece away from the compelling nature of the day’s events, and possibly confuse viewers. The circumstances of the police shooting incident are too complicated to capture in a single phrase. Your interpretation that it implies the man was innocent is not obvious. It is just as likely that people hearing the sentence would assume the man was shot because he was engaged in activities similar to the attack at the synagogue. And as Mr. Nagler pointed out, he was talking about the heightened tensions, and used the example of the police incident to give a Palestinian perspective. The use of the sentence in the context of this report conveys the information it needs to, without bias and without inaccuracy. There is no violation of policy.

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman