Putting Quotes In Context

The complainant, Arthur Milner, thought some reports about Israeli reaction to a UNESCO resolution allowed remarks made by the Israeli Prime Minister to go unchallenged. He felt his assertions were false and the news stories did not make that clear. Providing enough context so citizens can draw their own conclusions is important. There was sufficient information in this case.

COMPLAINT

In October of this year, CBC News produced stories online and on radio about Israel’s reaction to a UNESCO resolution critical of it for restricting access to Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem. You said the stories contained false information. They both quoted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and you thought the reports left unchallenged the way he characterized the resolution. They quoted the prime minister as saying “the organization adopted another delusional decision which says that the people of Israel have no connection to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall.” You said you had read the entire resolution and nowhere does it make such a statement. You added that it ignored Israel’s ties to religious sites in Jerusalem, it did not deny them.

To use Netanyahu’s phrasing without explaining what was in the UNESCO resolution itself gave the impression of endorsing the Israeli prime minister’s version:

“Which says that” and “to declare that” asserts that the UNESCO motion made an active statement. But the assertion is false. The CBC report should have made that clear.

You added that the reporting never included what the resolution was about, nor quoted from it. You thought it should have provided more context to make clear Mr. Netanyahu was wrong in his characterization of the motion. You were concerned that CBC was validating the remarks:

Is CBC News that careless or is it abetting Netanyahu's inflammatory speech?

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

The managing editor of CBC radio and television news, Paul Hambleton, replied to your complaint. He noted the tensions around access to a compound that contains sites holy to Muslims and Jews. He also noted that this motion criticized restrictions Israel has imposed on Muslims wishing to access to the Al-Aqsa mosque and the compound surrounding it. He added that it did not make any mention of the significance of the Western Wall and the Temple Mount (the Jewish term for the area), to Jews. He said it is in this context that one must place the Israeli Prime Minister’s “newsworthy” remarks. He stated reporting them did not imply endorsement. He agreed with you that the UNESCO document does not explicitly say Israel has no connection to the holy site. However, the story provided adequate information to understand the nature of his statements:

Israel's Prime Minister suggests that this choice by UNESCO is a way of dismissing the Jewish connection to these holy sites. In essence, he condemns UNESCO for what is not included in its resolution...Our story was fair and responsible, and I believe it provided enough context to understand his remarks.

REVIEW

CBC News, according to its Journalistic Standards and Practices, must uphold the highest standards of accuracy and ensure there is clarity in the writing to make meaning and information clear:

We seek out the truth in all matters of public interest. We invest our time and our skills to learn, understand and clearly explain the facts to our audience. The production techniques we use serve to present the content in a clear and accessible manner.

Part of the process of ensuring clear understanding is to provide enough context and present enough facts, so that Canadians listening, watching or reading can make up their own minds. In this case you thought the context was lacking, and that anyone listening or reading would take Benjamin Netanyahu literally -- that the UNESCO motion denied any Jewish connection to the holy sites of Jerusalem. The radio and online pieces are quite different, and I will assess each separately. There was a further complication in doing this review in that the story you read on October 13, entitled UNESCO resolution on access to Jerusalem holy site angers Israel, a Reuters story, no longer exists on the CBCNews.ca site. It was replaced by an AP story sometime in the 24 hours after it was posted, as the story developed. It is headlined Israel suspends ties with UNESCO over naming of Jerusalem holy site. The second story provided quite a lot of detail about the content of the resolution and quoted two other Israeli officials in response. One of them, Naftali Bennett, the Israeli Education Minister, also characterized UNESCO’s action as denying a Jewish tie to the site.

While the second story provided more details, the first one you read also does, in fact, explain what is in the resolution. The context necessary to understand the Israeli Prime Minister’s comments is provided in the lede of the article. From his perspective, the ignoring of Jewish connection and history is the same as denial.

UNESCO member states have renewed a resolution criticising Israel for restricting Muslim access to a Jerusalem holy site, a European diplomatic source said, angering Israel's government by also referring to the area only by its Muslim names.owed the site repeatedly described only by its Muslim names - something Israel says amounts to a denial of its Jewish history.

As for the radio script -- of course that goes by much quicker -- and it may be harder to remember what was said. The introduction to the World at Six radio piece attributed the statement to Israel, and it also mentioned what the resolution does and doesn’t include. Some may take the Prime Minister’s quote literally, but in this context it is clear it is his perspective. I am not sure it needed to be literally spelled out.

Intro:

Israel has reacted angrily to a UNESCO resolution that says denies its historical ties to one of Jerusalem’s holiest sites. Tensions have been high recently over the status of what is known as the Temple Mount to the Jew and Al-Aqsa to Muslims. And a resolution by the UN body’s executive board is escalating that debate. Irris Makler reports:

Makler:

The resolution proposed by Jordan and the Palestinian Territories passed overwhelmingly- 24 countries voted in favour, six against with the remaining members abstaining.

It condemns what it calls the continuous Israeli aggression against Muslims praying at the Al-Aqsa mosque, but makes no mention of the sites’ historic ties to Judaism.

In Israel the decision is being is being treated with astonishment -Israeli media describing it as on a par with declaring Egypt has no connection to the pyramids, or that the world is flat.

The quotes from Prime Minister Netanyahu follow this part of the script. There is sufficient background and words that indicate this is an Israeli view of the situation. The story is framed around Israeli reaction. The digital story provides more history and background as well as reaction from other quarters, as one would expect from a medium that can take more time and provide more detail than radio. I appreciate the concern you raised, especially at a time when fact checking and reporting what politicians say without merely giving them a platform has become very much an issue. News writing, especially for broadcast, is very condensed, although that is not an excuse for distorting meaning. I do not think in this case it did. The stories are not in violation of CBC journalistic policy.

Sincerely,

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman