Balancing Act

The complainant Silvana Goldemberg thought a strong statement from a filmmaker about one of the messages of his documentary needed to be balanced with an opposing view. He referred to Israel as an apartheid state. Balance is achieved over time and the interview was not about Israel. In this case there was no need for immediate counter views.

COMPLAINT

You were concerned that the director of an “anti-Israel” film entitled Valentino's Ghost was allowed to present his views without any countering position. Gloria Macarenko, who was hosting “On the Coast”, interviewed Michael Singh about the film, which was being presented at a Vancouver film festival. You objected to the fact that he was able to give his personal opinion, and no one was interviewed to refute his views. You thought that at the least, the host should have made some attempt to provide balance to his views:

She didn't say anything when Mr. Singh lied openly saying Israel is an apartheid country. And this is not someone’s opinion, this is an Anti-Semitic LIE. 1,700,000 Arabs live in Israel and they have more rights and freedom than in any Muslim country. Most of them are professionals, businessmen, 17 Arabs are member of Israeli Parliament. As Jews can not even live in Gaza (for the first time in more than 3,000 years). Who is apartheid? Please, stop giving open mic to haters and liars.

You said it was unacceptable that CBC journalists “continue, time after time, with this unbalanced approach to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, manipulating public opinion with our taxpayers’ money.” You cited another example from another programme, but it is not the subject of this review.

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

Lorna Haeber, The Senior Director of Programming in British Columbia responded to your concerns. She explained that Mr. Singh was interviewed because his documentary was being shown at a local film festival. She said the documentary explored “how the U.S. foreign policy has shaped and influenced Hollywood’s and the news media’s views on Arabs and Muslims.” She said that it was not necessary to have someone on at the same time to counter Mr. Singh’s views, because balance is achieved over time, by the presentation of divergent views. She also explained that local shows rarely present material on Middle East politics, and that she was confident that coverage over time was not anti-Israel. She pointed to some other interviews done with members of the Vancouver Jewish community on a range of topics as examples of divergent views:

Twice since December 2015 (Dec 17 and May 16), our morning show the Early Edition has interviewed Rabbi Dan Moscovitz about his congregation's plan to sponsor Syrian refugee families. As well, Rabbi David Mivasair was a recent guest on the Early Edition (Feb 3, 2016). He was part of a panel discussing the policy differences between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton in the race for the Democratic nomination in the U.S. The spirited debate touched on a number of issues including, briefly, foreign policy. We also have broadcast some lighter fare related to the annual Chutzpah Festival.

REVIEW

This was an interview about a documentary with a point of view and a thesis. It was not a discussion about Middle East policy or the ongoing Israeli/Palestinian struggle as such. That context and framing does make a difference. For most of the interview, Ms Macarenko elicits from her guest why he made the film, and what he was exploring. This is how it begins:

Gloria Macarenko (Intro): ...The movie is a damning indictment of the way U.S. foreign policy in the middle east shapes and influences Hollywood’s and mainstream media’s views on Arabs. Valentino’s Ghost screens tomorrow as part of the Just Film Festival at the Van City Theatre. Michael Singh is director of the movie. He is in town for tomorrow’s screening. He’s with us now in studio...So glad you were able to come in and talk about this because just watching the trailer it’s powerful. It grabs you and pulls you right in...tell us a little bit more about what you wanted to do with this movie.

Michael Singh: We wanted to trigger a debate. We don’t think that we’re quite grandiose enough that we think we can change American foreign policy with increased awareness; but at least have a debate about the Middle East, Israel policy and also to get people aware about what’s behind images that are flooding into our brains every day.

The two go on to talk about the evolution of the portrayal of Muslims and Arabs throughout the history of Hollywood films, starting with Rudolph Valentino in the early part of the twentieth century. It is the filmmaker’s thesis that the image evolved from the sheik who was “an American icon and sex symbol” to a negative stereotyping in both film and news today. He has a theory about how and why that happened, and the influences that shape those images. That is what a great deal of the interview focused on - the connection between U.S, foreign policy and the portrayal of Muslims and Arabs. It is clear that Mr. Singh believes the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is not accurately portrayed. It is in the final response that the reference to Israel and apartheid was made:

Gloria Macarenko: Well whether or not you have had government response you’ve had some major international organizations respond. What do you hope people take away from seeing your film

Michael Singh: I hope they become skeptical of even our movie. Just skeptical of what they see and also I hope they witness the apartheid state in Israel Palestine which right now is not considered that. It’s not called that It’s not proper to say that on the air, which is one of the reasons I am very grateful that I’m here in Canada. I can speak more freely

It is clear that Mr. Singh is expressing his opinion. It is a provocative and controversial one, and one you oppose. There is CBC journalistic policy about the expression of opinion:

CBC, in its programming, over time, provides a wide range of comment and opinion on significant issues.

We achieve balance by featuring multiple perspectives and points of view to reflect a diversity of opinion.

It is important to mention any association, affiliation or special interest a guest or commentator may have so that the public can fully understand that person's perspective.

This was clearly the opinion of the interviewee and represents his perspective. CBC, on all its platforms, regularly explores a wide range of issues pertaining to the Middle East from a variety of perspectives. Had this been a discussion about Israeli policy or a current situation in Israel, I agree with you that the host should have been more challenging. This was an interview to explore and elicit one man’s perspective and views about a documentary he had made on the portrayal of Muslims and Arabs in mass media. Freedom of expression allows for him to state them.

Ms.Haeber provided you with some other examples that brought the perspective of members of the Jewish community on a range of issues - the examples she gave did not really pertain to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. You are right that they do not supply balance to this particular interview. She also mentioned that it is a subject area rarely pursued on local programming. However, CBC News and Current Affairs programming has done and will continue to do so. The CBC journalistic value on balance specifically indicates the expression of a wide range of views should exist across programmes and platforms over a period of time:

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.

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.

In this case, there was no violation of policy.

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman