How News Happens

The complainant, Karen Rodman, thought coverage of the shooting of a Palestinian man by Israeli forces was inaccurate, especially the headline. News stories change as more facts become known. The headline was changed in a timely fashion. The narrative may not have been as she wished it to be told, but it did not violate CBC News' obligation to be balanced.

COMPLAINT

You considered a story published on cbcnews.ca “misleading and inaccurate.” You wanted an apology and retraction. You wondered why CBC News, with a resident reporter in Jerusalem, did not send him to cover this event in Ramallah rather than relying on a wire service report which was inaccurate. The story concerned the killing of a Palestinian man by Israeli forces: Palestinian Man killed in West Bank shootout, Israeli police say.

You also objected to a second story published around the same time in early March. You reported an error through the cbcnews.ca site regarding an article entitled Banksy’s art revealed in West Bank hotel with world’s ‘worst view.’” You said it was inaccurate to refer to a conflict between Israel and the Hamas government in Gaza. The attacks against Gaza by Israel were not a “conflict” but a war supported by the United States. You think a conflict is between two equal parties:

It was a military attack by Israel on the occupied territory of Gaza. Under the IV Geneva Convention Israel as the occupier is responsible for the safety of the civilians of the areas they occupied. Removing its own illegal settlement which is prohibited under the Convention/International Humanitarian Law does not change this--the Gaza is blockaded by the Israeli military by air, water and land, and is occupied.

You thought there were several “core issues” to be considered:

  1. that it is Israeli military killing Palestinians civilians;

  2. there is no Palestinian military fighting against the Israeli military;

  3. the Palestinian Authority is coordinating with Israel, and so is not independent in this regard;

  4. that an occupation is defined by the Fourth Geneva Convention, and the rules of “what is fair” in war for a people under occupation is clearly defined, and Israel is not adhering to these; it is not a conflict, it is an occupation; Canada’s own foreign policy, as does that of other states, recognizes this, even if the CBC does not;

  5. even if the numbers were not challenged, the point is that in the cases where civilians have killed military or other civilians this is not a war situation or conflict, this is civilians. There are NO examples I am aware of where a Palestinian military has injured not alone killed an Israeli military person or an Israeli settler;

  6. Palestinians do not refer to themselves as Israeli Arabs, they are Palestinians who are citizens of Israel, or if you are referring to someone in East Jerusalem then perhaps a Palestinian who is a Jerusalem resident;

  7. that in case where individuals are alleged of crimes including murder, there is not fair trials and collective punishment of families and communities is the norm;

  8. that your reporter did not follow up to do reporting with leads provided, or find his own contacts within the oPt that could have spoken to the situation, but rather chose to use an AP article that the CBC has admitted was inaccurate.

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

The Executive Producer of digital news, Lianne Elliott, replied to your concerns. She mentioned that she had corresponded with you on March 8, the day the story was posted. You had raised similar concerns through the website contact. She reviewed the story at that time and explained that an earlier version of the story did not include comment or perspective of the family members of the man who was killed. A more complete article, including their version of events, was published as an update. She acknowledged your input in improving the story.

She told you that the headline was also changed. The first iteration was “Palestinian gunman killed in West Bank shootout.” It was changed to the current version - “Palestinian killed in West Bank shootout” - because the first one “lacked attribution and described Basil al-Araj as a gunman when his family is casting doubt that he acted as an attacker.”

She also informed you there were other modifications to the story based on your feedback. The AP story provided casualty figures in the conflict since September 2015. You asked Ms. Elliott to check the sources used by AP and suggested some she might use. Ms. Elliott told you the numbers published were “in line with” those of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and numbers given to CBC News by the Palestinian Ministry of Health. She explained there are discrepancies in the totals used because various organizations use different time frames and criteria. The story was amended to be a more general characterization, which is the usual practice for CBC News. It now reads:

Since a recent wave of violence began in October 2015, nearly 40 Israelis have died in attacks carried out by Palestinians and Israeli Arabs. Meanwhile, more than 200 Palestinians — most of them attackers, according to Israel — have been killed.

She also responded to your concern about the use of the word “conflict” in a separate story. She told you:

Although I understand and respect your analysis here, it is simply not true that the word “conflict” demands there be two equal parties. The term conflict, defined by the Oxford Dictionary as a prolonged armed struggle, is a neutral term to describe the situation. As mandated by our Journalistic Standards and Practices, our position is not to take sides, but make every effort to reflect all perspectives and let the audience come to their own conclusions.

REVIEW

CBC News has an obligation to provide accurate information and present a range of views over a reasonable period of time. It is a statement of the obvious to say there are few issues more controversial and complex than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I use the word “conflict” because it is appropriate. It is a neutral and economical word to capture a nuanced and multi-faceted reality. There is nothing wrong with using it. The job of a single news report is to convey what has happened and to provide as many perspectives as are available when the news breaks. It is the nature of breaking news that it is iterative. Ms. Elliott explained to you that when a more complete story became available, the story was updated with a more complete picture of what had happened. It is a judgment call whether to initially hold back publication because one perspective or another is lacking. It is common practice, especially when using news from agencies such as AP, to publish and update as the story unfolds.

You want CBC to report that the Israeli military is killing civilians. The status of the man in this case - civilian or militant - is unclear. CBC can report the dispute of the facts; it cannot make a judgment without a great deal more proof. Had they sent their own reporter, as you suggest, it is unlikely on the basis of spot news reporting, that he could have come to a definitive conclusion. Your list of issues represents your analysis and views of the situation. Aside from the fact that one news story could never address all of them, CBC News is not obliged to report it in that way. The obligation of its reporters and editors is to present a range of views, reflect the experience of as many of the communities affected by the conflict and occupation, and to let people draw their own conclusions.

You wrote to me that you wanted me to consider:

[A]review of the inaccurate comparison of a military that occupies, and their killing of civilians, who they as the occupier are required to protect, to alleged killing by civilians of military or other civilians, with the alleged Palestinians not receiving fair trials, and their families & communities being afflicted with collective punishment.

My mandate is to ensure CBC content conforms to CBC journalistic policy, and to identify any systematic lack or bias. Despite the belief of many who have strongly held views on both sides of the issue, CBC News provides a range of views and perspectives. To be sure, there have been individual stories with either errors or too narrow a focus. Neither of the two stories you cited are among them. Ms. Elliott told you the story was changed as more information became available. I note from the time stamp on it that the story was updated within a matter of hours. I also am glad to know, based on your query, there were changes made regarding the reporting of casualty numbers. CBC Journalistic Code has policy concerning the correction of errors:

In the world of digital on demand, material may be accessible long after its original publication or broadcast. A dated story is not necessarily wrong. It is a reflection of the facts known at the time of publication. It can be an important part of the historical record.

But there may be times, in the light of new information, that archived material is substantially wrong. In those cases we review the material and take appropriate action that could include revising the original material, including a correction box or writing a fresh story.

Any changes to the original material will be noted to preserve the transparency of the process.

Decision to alter a story or its status should be done in consultation with the producer or editor.

Elsewhere, one of the principles enunciated is “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.”

While the changes were for clarity and weren’t technically an error, these were significant enough clarifications to have merited a notation of the changes. It is always best to err on the side of transparency. However, there was no violation of policy in the content.

Sincerely,

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman