Interpreting Perspectives

The complainant, Hans Dekkers, thought that any discussion of the Middle East peace process must mention that the Palestinian Authority and Hamas do not recognize Israel’s right to exist, even when the article is an Opinion piece. In presenting opinion, the writer gets to frame the argument. Lack of this mention in Neil Macdonald’s column did not violate policy.

COMPLAINT

You objected to an opinion piece by Neil Macdonald published on cbcnews.ca entitled Let’s stop pretending Israel is heading toward a two-state solution.” Even though it was opinion, you felt it fell short of being fair or accurate. You said Mr. Macdonald had left out the “#1 reality any fair and accurate article on this topic must cover,” and that is the Palestinian Authority and Hamas have not formally recognized Israel’s right to exist. To your mind, one cannot address the question of any kind of agreement without drawing attention to this state of affairs:

Without overt focus on the reality of the formal Palestinian denial of Israel's Right to Exist, it is impossible to fairly and accurately analyse and interpret the prospects of Peace.

You believe that this opinion piece reflected the ongoing bias of the writer. After you received a response from CBC News management, you had a further concern. You thought that the Managing Editor of @cbcnews shared Mr. Macdonald’s bias. You were concerned that he “relegated the issue of PA’s [Palestinian Authority] to the status of a bargaining tool.” You believe that this indicates he too has an explicit bias, which enabled Mr. Macdonald’s article to be published and prominently promoted in the first place.

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

Steve Ladurantaye, the Managing Editor, also reminded you that this was an Opinion piece, and as such the writer had some latitude to give “more or less weight to facts as he considers their relevance.He explained that the author of the article was not obliged to emphasize a point you consider indispensable:

I do not share your assessment that his approach was lacking. While you are absolutely correct that the absence of formal recognition of Israel's right to exist is a major issue, your judgment that this is the "#1 reality" to be considered is your own opinion, not indisputable fact.

It might be pointed out that Palestinian leaders acknowledged Israel’s right to exist following 1993’s Oslo talks. I realize, of course, that the PLO is not precisely the same thing as the Palestinian Authority. But there is room to argue how big an impediment this issue is. Israel has often described it as a precondition to negotiation. Palestinians have often seen recognition as leverage for bargaining.

You were concerned this response did not address the issue of Hamas’ refusal to recognize Israel, and that it also relegated the issue of recognition to the status of leverage at the bargaining table.

Finally, Mr. Ladurantaye pointed out that both sides are criticised in the column and that he did not agree with your view that the framing of the piece was unfair.

REVIEW

CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices sets out a framework for the publication of opinion:

Our programs and platforms allow for the expression of a particular perspective or point of view. This content adds public understanding and debate on the issues of the day.

When presenting content (programs, program segments, or digital content) where a single opinion or point of view is featured, we ensure that a diversity of perspective is provided across a network or platform and in an appropriate time frame.

When we choose to present a single point of view:

• it is clearly labeled, and

• it does not misrepresent other points of view.

Those are the overarching principles, and there is specific policy applied to commentators. Mr. Macdonald has been designated an opinion columnist, and no longer is involved in day-to-day reporting. The goal of the use of commentators is to “provide, over time, a wide range of comment and opinion on significant issues.” As Mr. Ladurantaye pointed out to you, within this framework the commentator has some latitude to ascribe weight and significance to the facts at play. In your opinion, one of the facts that must always be mentioned is that Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have not recognized Israel’s right to exist. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is polarizing and passionately viewed. There is a desire that any discussion conform to the narrative and beliefs one holds. It does not oblige another person, especially in the context of an opinion piece, to reflect or uphold that view. I note the CBC Opinion section invites all Canadians to contribute their views, and lays out a set of criteria for doing so.

This piece was a harsh and critical view of the state of the peace process. The writer’s point of view is essentially that there isn’t any. He provides analysis of how he views the current political reality, citing Israelis, Palestinians and Americans. This is an opinion piece and that gives the writer the license to interpret the facts and draw conclusions based on his or her view. That is the case here, whether you agree with it or not.

You were very concerned that by mentioning the historical fact that the PLO had recognized Israel prior to the Oslo peace talks and that it was part of the negotiations, Mr. Ladurantaye was showing his bias. He agreed with you that the Palestinian Authority is not the same as the PLO and he did not dispute your statement that the PA had not yet done so; he was stating he disagreed it was critical to frame the discussion around it. Mr. Ladurantaye is a professional who is obliged to uphold CBC’s journalistic standards and to ensure a diversity of views in the Opinion section. I note there was a recent submission from the Executive Director of Honest Reporting Canada, a staunch advocate for Israel. Going forward, I would expect CBC News staff to ensure that a range of views on the topic are represented. There was no violation of policy.

Sincerely,

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman