The Rohingya Story

The complainant, Meer Sahib, thought the phrasing of a reference to the insurgent attacks that sparked the current action against the Rohingya people left the impression that the host of The National was “blaming the victim.” The visuals and the account of the military response provided a broader context in a very short report. There was no violation of policy.

COMPLAINT

You thought an item which aired on The National on September 3, 2017 about the Rohingya fleeing Burma left the impression they were to blame for their persecution. You pointed out they have been the subject of “atrocities” perpetrated by the Burmese regime for many years. The script, which was read over visuals of the fleeing refugees, stated:

This all began when insurgence of the Rohingya Muslim minority attacked Myanmar security posts.

You thought this implied the military operations about them began because of the insurgency. It provided no context nor mention that the Rohingya have been a persecuted minority for a long time. You said this was an “atrocious lie that it was all the fault of the victims.”

... it is praiseworthy that some Rohingyas have decided to fight back. CBC should not have ignored all the history of oppression, cruelties and butcheries of the Burmese Buddhists, and focus only on a relatively recent phenomenon of self-defence struggle by a tiny group.

You considered that this broadcast caused irrevocable harm to the Rohingya people and asked that CBC prepare an unbiased report outlining their predicament and history of oppression.

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

The acting Executive Producer of The National, Raj Ahluwalia, responded to your concerns. He told you he reviewed that evening’s coverage. He pointed out that it was a very brief segment with a short script to accompany visuals which had just emerged. He cited the commentary in its entirety:

To a dire situation in Myanmar, also known as Burma, where more than 70,000 people have crossed the border over the past ten days. They are fleeing violence and pouring into neighbouring Bangladesh. The U.N. says relief camps are almost full. This all began when insurgents of the Rohingya Muslim minority attacked Myanmar security posts. In response, the military of the majority Buddhist country began what it calls clearance operations. People say their villages are being bombed and burned. Nearly 400 people have been killed.

He explained the reference to the exodus beginning after insurgents attacked some security outposts is in the context of explaining what had happened in the last 10 days - it is not implying that the Rohingya people had brought this on themselves. He added that in such a short item there is little opportunity to provide context or history:

That’s one reason why in the following days the National did four stories on what’s happening, including two full items by reporters. Some of those stories were about the international outcry and a call on Canada’s government to do more.

He told you that programmers and managers would consider doing a documentary on the plight of the Rohingya, as you had suggested.

REVIEW

Coverage of breaking and ongoing news events is iterative. When this segment aired, there was a great deal of background or knowledge. It was one of the entry points into a story of a humanitarian disaster and one the Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, has labelled “ethnic cleansing.” The brief script is also accompanied by strong images of women and children fleeing for their lives, of crowded refugee camps and smoldering villages. The script begins with a reference to an ire situation and 70 thousand people forced to run. I appreciate you read the reference to “this all began when insurgents...attacked Myanmar security posts” as blaming the victims. In fact, while it could have been phrased a little more clearly, it can also be seen as a chronological reference. To say that this latest and brutal Burmese military response was triggered by the attacks is factually correct. It, in no way, implies that innocent victims are to blame. It notes that it is what set off this latest large-scale response. People watching and hearing that such a large number of people were displaced because their homes were destroyed would form their own judgment about who was to blame for the dislocation - I doubt it would be the women and children.

Since that broadcast, The National and other CBC programmes and platforms have provided background and explanation of the Rohingya’s situation in Myanmar, and have reported on the widespread condemnation of the regime’s actions. I note that at this time, Nahlah Ayed has been reporting from the refugee camps in Bangladesh. There has been no violation of CBC journalistic standards and practices.

Sincerely,

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman