Bias by omission.

The complainant, Bernard Ship, thought a story regarding the confrontations at the Gaza-Israel border lacked important information about Hamas’s involvement. The piece was not about the confrontations but the attempts by both sides to shape and define the narrative. The omission did not lead to bias.

COMPLAINT

You objected to an article analyzing the propaganda efforts of the two sides in relation to the clashes at the Gaza border fence with Israel. It was entitled Gaza Images stir emotions but fail to capture complexity of Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” You thought a “crucial” piece of information was missing, which left a false impression of events and was evidence of bias against Israel:

One reason Hamas is successful, as acknowledged by DStoffel, is that media usually portray this as a fight by unarmed civilians conducting peaceful protests against a line of armed soldiers who shoot to kill. Yet, he IGNORES the fact that a high level Hamas spokesman recently confessed to an interviewer, on TV, as as widely distributed on video, that there were 50 Hamas operatives among the 60-62 killed last Friday. This interview happens to be only one example of evidence which demonstrates the media "covering up" of any evidence that might show the Palestinians in any negative light.. TOO MUCH PROMINENCE, undue prominence , is given to painting a biased picture of what is really occurring. STOFFEL IS HELPING Hamas win the propaganda war because he does not fully report the truth CBC news reporting is, if anything, even more unbalanced than the Stoffel" analysis" article.

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

Tracy Seeley, the Executive Producer of CBC News, replied to your complaint. She explained the purpose of the piece you cited was to step back from the daily coverage and to provide some analysis about “the propaganda war that unfolded alongside the Gaza protests,” and to especially focus on the imagery that was prominently displayed in media coverage:

In other words, we asked Mr. Stoffel to take a step back and look at how the images we had seen had helped to shape our perceptions of the conflict, although not our understanding of its complexity. And I think he did a good job of it.

She pointed out CBC News had reported on a senior Hamas official saying that most of the dead Palestinians were members of his organization, and had done so on broadcasts and online. She added that it is unreasonable to expect that all information about a situation as complex, controversial and long-running as this one be included in each article, and that the omission of some information does not mean the article is biased or inaccurate.

REVIEW

CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices define balance as the presentation of a range of views and perspectives over time:

We contribute to informed debate on issues that matter to Canadians by reflecting a diversity of opinion. Our content on all platforms presents a wide range of subject matter and views.

On issues of controversy, we ensure that divergent views are reflected respectfully, taking into account their relevance to the debate and how widely held these views are. We also ensure that they are represented over a reasonable period of time.

Coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict is probably one of the most controversial news people deal with, and because of its complexity and longevity, partisans on either side often cite the absence of some context or information as evidence of bias. As David Horovitz, Editor of Times of Israel noted to Mr. Stoffel, it is the polarization of the narratives that makes the journalism challenging and requires depth and thought. This piece was one attempt at doing that - it was not a piece about the daily events at the fence, an analysis of who was instigating it, or the role of Hamas in the demonstrations. It was about the way the actors in this narrative used information as a propaganda tool. I appreciate you believe that this aspect of the conflict should not be discussed without reference to Hamas’s involvement, but it is not critical here to understand the point being made. Hamas is front and centre in the article as it is a deconstruction of how a poignant image, now suspect in its use, was used to gain control of the narrative. From the outset, the piece shows its attempt at balance - starting at the headline and sub-headline:

Gaza images stir emotions but fail to capture complexity of Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Photograph of dead baby picked up by media around the world has some crying ‘fake news’.

While it references “unarmed Palestinians,” it says that what really happened was more complex. The reference to the skirmishes set the stage for the discussion of the so-called information war around it - not the events themselves but the efforts to control the narrative. The focus of the story was the photograph of the dead baby, and here the various versions of the event were clearly spelled out. It also mentioned that there are residents of Gaza who accused Hamas of co-opting the demonstrations for their own purpose. The absence of the mention of the Hamas members among the dead was not critical to understanding the thesis and analysis Mr. Stoffel provided.

I appreciate you consider that it is so critical to the narrative that it must be present each time. Those invested in a particular narrative see certain facts or references as critical context to bolster their version of events, or history. Journalism does not work that way. It is iterative - and that is why CBC, as do most other reputable media organizations, allows for the practice of balance achieved over time. There are certainly instances when a particular fact or reference is critical for fair reporting and providing the necessary context. I do not agree that this is one of them.

Sincerely,

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman