Accuracy in headlines and photos

The complainant, Mike Fegelman, the Executive Director of HonestReporting Canada, made two requests for reviews. One concerned a headline dealing with the sentencing of an Israeli soldier and the other questioned the use of an old photograph for a news report. He was concerned that the story behind the photo made it inappropriate, and he questioned why such an old photo would have been chosen. Both the headline and the photo were appropriate, and there was no violation of policy.

COMPLAINT

As you requested reviews at the same time regarding two different news stories published on cbcnews.ca, I will deal with both of them in this review. You have filed these complaints in your capacity as Executive Director of HonestReporting Canada.

The first one was a complaint about the headline in a story noting that an Israeli court upheld the sentence of a soldier convicted of shooting a Palestinian assailant who lay injured on the ground: Israeli court upholds 18-month sentence for soldier’s shooting of Palestinian.” You said the headline should have referred to the Palestinian as an “attacker”, as is noted in the first paragraph of the story. You pointed out that in other CBC reports the word “assailant” was used in the headlines, and that CBC should be consistent and “strive for accuracy.” You asked that the headline be amended.

Your second concern was the use of an old photograph used to illustrate a story published in September 2017. It accompanied a report entitled Hamas says it accepts Palestinian president’s reconciliation demands.” The photo, depicting people flying Palestinian and Hamas flags, was actually taken in 2005 at a funeral for bombing victims. They were killed when a pick-up truck carrying rockets and explosives detonated, and, according to reports at the time, killed over a dozen people. You questioned the use of a 12-year old photo to illustrate a current story. The caption on the story described it as one taken at the funeral of Palestinian bomb victims without mentioning the circumstances in which they were killed. You noted that at the time the photo was released the original information came with the photo from Getty images:

Of importance, the original Getty Images caption states the following: “JABALYA REFUGEE CAMP - GAZA STRIP 24: Mourners wave Palestinian and Hamas flags while they wait the funeral of 15 Palestinian bomb victims in the Al-shuhada cemetery, September 24, 2005 in Jabalya refugee camp northern Gaza Strip. Thousands reportedly attended the funeral held for the 15 Palestinian victims killed September 23 in a car explosion during a Hamas military rally. Both Hamas and Israel are accusing each other of causing the explosion. (Photo by Abid Katib/Getty Images)”

I know that photos and captions sometimes are stories unto themselves, but the reality is that these 15 Palestinians died because Hamas’ homemade rockets/ammunition prematurely exploded, so said Israel and the Palestinian Interior Ministry at the time.

You said using the image in this context was “outdated and inappropriate.”

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

Jack Nagler, the Director for Journalistic Accountability and Engagement, replied to your first complaint. He told you the headline was not inaccurate, and noted, as you did, the information about the Palestinian soldier shot was in the first paragraph of the story. He explained that headlines are “generally unable to include every detail of a story.” He added that the headline would not be changed.

He also replied to your second concern regarding the photograph. He explained there is always a preference to use photos generated from the event being covered, but when they are not available, editors turn to stock photographs. He explained why this image was chosen from the database:

In this case, our editors wanted an image with a clearly identifiable symbol of Hamas. The one we chose was the one we felt fit our needs best. The editors wanted to have a clear symbol of Hamas as opposed to a newer image that was less quickly identifiable.

The caption as written is accurate and makes no mention of who caused the bombing as it is not relevant for this particular story.

REVIEW

While there is no specific policy regarding headlines, the general rules of clarity and accuracy apply. Headlines will always present a challenge, especially ones written for contentious and highly scrutinized subject matter such as coverage of the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It is not realistic to expect every headline to encompass the same details as every other. Earlier stories used the qualifier “assailant” - this one did not - but as both you and Mr. Nagler noted, it is in the very first paragraph:

An Israeli military court on Sunday upheld the 18-month sentence of a soldier convicted of fatally shooting a Palestinian attacker who lay on the ground wounded after stabbing and wounding another soldier, in a case that divided a country where military service is mandatory for most people.

This is well within acceptable journalistic practice - there is no inaccuracy and the relevant details are concisely provided in the lede of the story. There was no violation of policy.

As to your second concern, the CBC News staff properly identified the provenance of this photo - that it was taken many years ago at a different event. That is appropriate and necessary. This is what appears in the story:

Mourners wave Palestinian and Hamas flags while they wait the funeral of 15 Palestinian bomb victims in September 2005 in Jabalya refugee camp northern Gaza Strip. (Abid Katib/Getty)

I appreciate that you would be aware of the backstory to this event, and the counterclaims of responsibility at the time. Had the story, or even the photo addressed that issue, then of course it would have to be dealt with in some way. The photo was chosen because it is a strong image illustrating this story - a report of reconciliation between Hamas and the Fatah movement, led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The text under the photo accurately described where it was taken and what was going on. The language is neutral and provides the information necessary to place it in time and location. The cause of the explosion is irrelevant. The image is what would catch the eye, and for the average reader, it is highly unlikely it would evoke the original story or the competing claims around it. There is no violation of policy.

Sincerely,

Esther Enkin

CBC Ombudsman