CBC ombudsman: Make sure viewers know what they are seeing an unverified video
It would be useful for CBC News to think about ways to help members of the public understand the process used, and give context that enables them to assess what they are seeing, writes Esther Enkin.
By Esther Enkin, CBC ombudsman
The Executive Director of Honest Reporting, Mike Fegelman, complained about the use of unauthenticated video in a report from Gaza. The video was shot by an advocacy group and claimed to show a man being shot by a sniper. The complainant thought it should not have been used without at least two sources confirming it, and that is was not sufficiently clear this was unverified video. CBC obtained the images from Reuters and the decision to use it was justified. They could have been more explicit in explaining it though.
In your role as Executive Director of Honest Reporting Canada, you strongly objected to the use of an unauthenticated video in a report about the Gaza war, broadcast on The National on July 21, 2014. You pointed out that this was a “hand-out film” and that in order for it to be considered news, you thought it required “authentication from at least two official reliable sources. You added that CBC had not provided any source and you thought that it should not have been aired. You also objected to the fact that CBC did not identify the organization that released the footage, the International Solidarity Movement, which you described as “hard-core anti-Israel activists who have no credibility.
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The video, shot by ISM (International Solidarity Movement) volunteers purportedly shows the death of a Palestinian man who is out looking for his family during a lull in the fighting. He and the aid workers are walking through rubble and there are no other people visible. It appears that several sniper’s bullets hit him. In your initial email you say the “jury is still out” on the authenticity of the video but point to the fact that there is no blood visible in the video, and that the man’s identity is unknown, and you asked if there was any evidence that the Israel Defence forces were responsible. In response to management’s explanation you further point out that your organization cannot find the man, subsequently named as 23 year old Saleem Khaled Shamaly, on a list of “confirmed dead Gazans.” You also questioned the veracity of the footage, saying that "this looks like Pallywood to me." You thought CBC was being irresponsible running such a "provocative video" at a time when tensions are so strong:
“Emotions are running sky high right now in the Middle East and CBC ran this graphically provocative video that has the potential to stir up anti-Semitism which is on the rise all over the world – Germany, France, and Canada. There is no doubt in the viewer’s mind as to who is doing the sniping according to this clip, the Israelis, even though CBC doesn’t outright say so, but who the ISM publicly claims did the shooting. What else can a viewer surmise but to conclude Israeli culpability? The CBC also didn’t point out that the creators of this film, the ISM, are hard-core anti-Israel activists who have no credibility.”
Jack Nagler, the Director of Journalistic Public Accountability and Engagement, replied to your concerns. He explained that programmers are frequently faced with the decision they had to make about using the tape or not, when trying to report on regions in turmoil. He characterized the video as “a provocative tape, but without assurance that it is genuine or contemporary.” He explained why the decision might be made to use it without that assurance:
“In these moments, if verification is not possible, we may still judge a tape to be worthy of inclusion in our reporting, perhaps because it is having an impact on public discourse, or perhaps because we believe the likelihood that it is genuine is high. In these cases, we have a responsibility to make clear through our treatment that questions remain about the tape.”
He said that the CBC news story did in fact make it clear in the language used in the piece.
To continue reading this review, please go to the CBC ombudsman's website where this was originally published.
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