CBC ombudsman: No bias here, just human error
A complainant was puzzled and concerned when an online story out of Gaza had no details at all about the information in the headline. He rejected the explanation that this was human error due to the fact that the story had been updated so often the facts referenced in the headline disappeared.
By Esther Enkin, CBC ombudsman
The complainant Jack Chivo was puzzled and concerned when an online story out of Gaza had no details at all about the information in the headline. He rejected the explanation that this was human error due to the fact that the story had been updated so often the facts referenced in the headline disappeared. He thought this was one more indication of CBC bias in covering the Middle East conflict, and he thought there were other missing details that reinforced his view. I found no violation of policy.
You were concerned about an apparent contradiction between a headline in a story and its content. The story, attributed to the wire news service Associated Press (AP), was headlined: “Palestinian rocket misfire hit Al-Shifah hospital, Israel says.” Nowhere in the story, however, was there any reference to this headlined statement. You asked if editors even bother reading the material, or worse, “is it possible that propaganda trumps accuracy??”(Sic). You were further perplexed by the fact that you could not find an AP story about this incident anywhere else, and were concerned that CBC was the only one to publish this. You were concerned that CBC was tampering with news agency copy, something you view as forbidden. You wrote:
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“I do not have to tell you, as a former seasoned journalist, that no news organization can use the names of AP, Reuters, AFP or CNN, to give a few examples, when it publishes a story, if it does not originate with the stated organization and only when it reproduces the said dispatch without any additions or modifications, unless approved by the original news agency.
Moreover, nobody is entitled to wantonly add or remove any word from the original story, if it exists, because it is considered professional and commercial fraud.”
You rejected all of Mr. Brodie’s explanations of how CBC news aggregates material and uses reports from more than one source in the body of a single piece, acknowledging it at the end of the article.
You had a further concern beyond the issues with this particular story. You felt the reporting lacked context and background. You pointed out that other news organizations had reported that Hamas operated out of this hospital, and that a Finnish reporter had recently reported that she had seen rockets launched from its parking lot. You quoted an article from the Washington Post that referred to Al-Shifah Hospital as the “de facto headquarters of Hamas.” Since CBC News did have reporters at this hospital, you wondered why there was no reporting of Hamas’s presence and use of the facility.
Brodie Fenlon, the Managing Editor of CBCNews.ca, responded to your concerns. He agreed that the version of the story that you referenced did in fact lack the information cited in the headline. He explained the story was originally posted just after midnight on July 28. As the day progressed, and more news emerged, the detail about the hospital, that Israel said it was hit by a misfired Palestinian rocket, moved further down the story. He went on to say:
“As far as we can tell, the detail about the hospital was cut from what was then a very long, unwieldy story at 7:37 p.m. Unfortunately, the editor did not change the headline at the same time, leading to your justified confusion. We have since updated the story to bring back the detail about the hospital. We modified the headline so it better reflects the final version of the story, and we have attached a correction that explains what happened.”
He also explained that like all news agencies, CBC News editors frequently edit copy as “we see fit.” It is also routine to use multiple sources, including input from CBC reporters in the body of one story. When this happens, as it did in this story, there is a footnote at the end which said, in this case, “With files from CBC News and Reuters.” He added that since the majority of the piece originated with AP, it was given primary credit at the top.
He referred you to the modified story. He strongly rejected your question that this might be “propaganda over accuracy’, and explained it was “human error on a story that was handled by multiple people over 20 hours and involved dozens of updates as the story developed over the day.” He also pointed you to two versions of the AP story, one published in U.S. News and World Report, the other in The World Post.
He said he was unable to respond to your critique of the work of CBC reporters who were at Al Shifah hospital because you were not specific about the stories in question. He said he would share your comments with the foreign editor.
The issues you raise around the AP story and headline were fully explained and answered by Mr. Fenlon. It misses the mark of CBC’s standard of accuracy to have a story that does not address the headline above it. On discovering the error, it was fixed and noted, in keeping with policy. It was one of many articles on the CBC News website capturing the events of a breaking news story. And this is not just any breaking news story; it is a complex and difficult war story. The attempt to continue to update signals a commitment to bringing people the most up to date facts. As you would know from you own experience, wire services continue to file on active stories, replacing facts that were wrong or adding new ones as they become available. Truth and accuracy in the middle of a war is a moving target. It is not generally because of bias or sloppiness, but because what is known in one moment in time is not known or is revised as more information becomes available.
To continue reading this review, please go to the CBC ombudsman's website where this was originally published.
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