Neutral Language.

The complainant, Mike Fegelman, Executive Director of HonestReporting Canada, did not want the participants in the Gaza protests called “demonstrators.” He thought this would leave the wrong impression about their actions and intentions. The word is appropriate - the news story in question described the activity and left readers to draw their own conclusions.


As Executive Director of HonestReporting Canada you complained about the use of the word “demonstrators” to describe the people protesting at the Gaza border fence. You cited an article published on April 10, 2018 entitled Israeli army vows disciplinary action over Gaza sniper video. You objected to a line in the story which stated “30 demonstrators have been killed by the army.” You said this was inaccurate because there is no truth to the claim those killed were demonstrators. You cited other media reports and Israeli officials who characterized many of those killed “were connected to terror organizations.” You asserted that using the term “demonstrators” misled Canadians into believing those killed were innocent protesters and not violent perpetrators.


Lianne Elliott, Executive Producer for Newsgathering and Assignment, CBC News, responded to your complaint. She told you that the word “demonstrator” was a neutral one, which describes someone participating in a protest or a march. She said that it does not imply intention one way or the other and concluded that “in this instance, it does not indicate acceptance of either side's narrative about these latest incidents.”


CBC Journalistic policy calls for precision in language. Using a generic term to describe those participating in the protests at the Gaza border is not a violation of policy. They are demonstrators with mixed motives and activities. There is no problem using the word “demonstrator” as long as within the context of the article the actions of those demonstrators are described, leaving readers to form their own conclusions. In fact, the focus of this article was not the ongoing demonstrations but the circulation of a video of a sniper shooting a protestor and the praise from a bystander. An Israeli military spokesman is quoted to provide context for the shooting:

The Palestinian who was shot was suspected of organizing a "riot, which included rock hurling and attempts to sabotage the security fence, and lasted about two hours," the statement said.

The sniper fired at him once, wounding him in the leg, after warning shots and orders to disperse went unheeded, the statement said, adding that the video was taken by a soldier from another unit.

The article also mentioned that the Israeli military has stationed sharpshooters to enforce a no-go zone near the border and to prevent Palestinians from breaching the fence and entering Israel. It is in that context the passing reference to the numbers killed was made. Other coverage has mentioned some armed protestors, the hurling of stones and firebombs, used the term “rioters”, and presented Israel’s point of view that these demonstrations are cover for attacks on Israel. There is also mention of unarmed civilians. The use of the word “demonstrator” is not biased or inappropriate.


Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman