CBC ombudsman: Make it clear to make it accurate
The complainant, Ed B, is being identified only by his first name and last initial because revealing his full name would compromise his professional position.
By Esther Enkin, CBC ombudsman
The complainant, Ed B, is being identified only by his first name and last initial because revealing his full name would compromise his professional position. I reluctantly agreed to do so because, as much as possible, the process should be transparent. He complained because an hourly report on the statement of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights only mentioned her criticism of Israel and not Hamas. That wasn’t exactly the case, but the short item was still unacceptable.
You wrote that you were concerned that there had been “selective reporting” in an hourly newscast on July 23, 2014. The report concerned statements made by Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights at that time. Speaking at an emergency debate of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, she condemned Hamas’s and other armed groups’ indiscriminate firing of missiles into Israel. She also condemned Israel’s attacks that resulted in civilian casualties, which she said violated international humanitarian law “in a manner that could amount to war crimes.”
The report you heard talked about possible war crimes but did not mention the criticism of Hamas and other armed groups, you said:
The segment included a voice quote to that effect. Only later, when I read about this event as reported by other news organizations, did I learn that in fact the Commissioner had voiced concerns about possible war crimes committed by both sides, not just Israel.
You questioned why “CBC selectively report(ed) this important story in a manner that incorrectly suggested that one side was accused of possible war crimes.” You attempted to alert the news service of this perceived violation of policy via the programming feedback contact form on the web site, but received no response. You then contacted this office.
You rejected the explanation given you, including that there is any distinction between the way the Commissioner characterized Hamas’s and Israel’s activities. You asked me to review the matter.
Jack Nagler, the Director of Journalistic Public Accountability and Engagement, responded to your complaint. He said you had raised a valid question about selection, and “whether we should have reflected Navi Pillay’s comments about Hamas as well. He said that it would have been preferable to have done so, but that it was permissible to have run the story the way it went to air. He thought that there was a distinction between the way the Human Rights Commissioner referred to Israel’s actions and the way she talked about Hamas. In Israel’s case, she mentioned possible war crimes; in the case of Hamas she talked only about violation of international law. Mr. Nagler said those “characterizations are qualitatively different.”
He explained further that the hourly newscasts are only five minutes long, and so the news producers treat them as an “audio headline service.” It was a defensible decision, he said, to leave out the information about Hamas because the information about Israel was more newsworthy. He agreed it would have been better to have included that information, but its absence was not evidence of bias. He also said that it was a “bit of a mug’s game” to assess balance and fairness when the sample is so small.
Your complaint raises the question of balance and accuracy. The CBC’s Journalistic Standards and Practices calls for balance to be achieved over a reasonable period of time. So Mr. Nagler has a point about judging bias based on one story. Being selective is a constant – reporters and editors distill what they know and what they have seen. Their judgment is based on, among other things, what is new, what is engaging, what has been reported before. They must certainly be mindful about what comes afterwards as well, to fulfill the policy on achieving balance over time. It would be hard to say there was any kind of bias based on this one story.
To continue reading this review, please go the CBC ombudsman’s website where this was originally published.