Monday, October 27, 2014

My Complaint to the CBC Ombudsman

After waiting 100 days I finally received a comment from CBC on my complaint to the Ombudsman. I will not give the entire message here, suffice to say that it was a disgusting exercise in COVER-UP and completely lacked honesty or sincerity. In effect it declared that reporting on the Israel/Palestine conflict in the summer of 2014 was nothing less than PERFECT. The very conceit of this claim is mind-boggling.

My next step is to go back to the Ombudsman and declare the CBC response to be unsatisfactory and request an Ombudsman investigation. Who knows how long I will haver to wait for that.

Here is the rather long message I sent to the Ombudsman today:

Dear Ms Enkin,


After waiting about 100 days I have finally received a reply from CBC regarding my complaint to you about coverage of the Israel/Palestine situation this past summer. Unfortunately the CBC reply is very unsatisfactory, and I must request that you investigate the matter directly.


I believe no honest person, who is not blinded by ethnic loyalties and prejudices, can deny the fundamental truth of my complaint – that reporting on Israel/Palestine over the four-month period last summer presented, overall, an imbalanced picture which favoured an Israeli perspective. Unfortunately Mr. Nagler of CBC has chosen to deny my complaint even an iota of merit, and in order to justify his rejection has resorted to a number of fallacious arguments and techniques. These include:

1) Raising irrelevant points

2) Ignoring inconvenient evidence

3) Creating straw men that misrepresent my points and then refuting these instead of addressing my points

4) Discussing my points as if replying, but without actually addressing them


I will give you specific examples of each of the above in an appendix to this email. I hope you will appreciate the inappropriate nature of this kind of argumentation and reject it as I have. Also I hope you will especially address the strong examples that Mr. Nagler chose to ignore entirely which are listed under item 2) in the following appendix.


What is especially disheartening about Mr. Nagler's reply is that it gave me the distinct impression that he had absolutely no interest in learning anything from my complaint. His objective was simply to deny everything, and insist that reporting was already perfect and that he had no intention to change it in any way. To me this suggests a lack of sincerity in the performance of his duties as the guardian of CBC's ethical standards. We all should be prepared to learn from criticism and not just provide a totally defensive stance.


Mr. Nagle wrote in his reply to me; "I appreciate that you have a strong commitment to the Palestinians." Actually this statement reveals that Mr. Nagle has completely misunderstood me. I am not Palestinian. I am not motivated by a desire to protect one ethnic group against another. However I am committed to a number of things, including:


1)      Responsible, honest journalism – I am a Canadian committed to honest journalism for Canada, otherwise I would not spend so much of my time communicating with the Ombudsman. It is actually insulting to me that Mr. Nagle should not recognize this point and accuse me of being motivated by partisan loyalties.


2)      Peace – I am committed to peace, and as I stated in the preamble to my complaint I believe CBC's faulty reporting makes a significant contribution to Israel's war strategy. Indeed Israel/Palestine is just a convenient example, because I also believe CBC's reporting in other areas, particularly Iran and Ukraine, is also slanted towards endorsing and promoting unnecessary wars.


3)      Justice and Human Rights – I am committed to justice and human rights, and I oppose CBC's reporting which tends to not only fail to address the abuses by Israel of Palestinians adequately, but actually facilitates these abuses.


If I can be accused of having an ethnic bias, it would not be to Palestinians. I am Jewish and I believe Israel's behaviour and policies are a black mark on the Jewish people, and that CBC is actually acting against the interests of Jewish people when it seeks to promote the interests of Israel through its faulty reporting.


I am certain you will give my complaint a more sincere, understanding, thoughtful, and respectful consideration than that offered by Mr. Nagle, and I thank you in advance.


Yours sincerely,


Terry Greenberg



Appendix: Fallacies employed by Mr. Nagle to reject my complaint


(Mr. Nagle's comments are in regular print. My comments are in italics and in bold.)


1)      Raising Irrelevant Points


Mr. Nagler goes to great length to outline all the constraints under which journalists labour, and I recognize them as valid. He writes that different stories require different treatment, and that there are space constraints, and time deadlines. But these arguments are basically irrelevant. All these constraints can be perfectly true, and unavoidable at particular times, but it is still possible that the final product will be imbalanced or give the impression of racial bias. It is a logical fallacy to say that, since a final outcome was natural or automatic, it is a good outcome.


The coverage of the three kidnapped Israelis was completely out of proportion to the coverage of the killing of Palestinian teenagers, both in May 2014 and during the raids after the kidnapping. At least Mr. Nagler could have admitted this as a problem that has the appearance of racial bias.


But having conceded that there are journalistic constraints, I must insist that journalists still have considerable leeway, and they are constantly making choices and that these choices inevitably reflect their biases however much they may try to avoid bias. We all have biases and it is disingenuous of Mr. Nagler to even suggest that CBC has managed to completely avoid bias, in spite of the overwhelming evidence that their coverage is skewed and biased.


If coverage unintentionally gives the impression of bias, the option still exists to take special measures to try to restore balance. This CBC does not do, except if the appearance of bias seems to malign Israel. I gave the example of the juxtaposition of headlines – when the CBC headline revealed that Israel bombed a school full of children, an unnecessary sub-headline was added quoting Netanyahu saying Israel wanted a restoration of peace. So even though the journalistic context did not require it, CBC made this special effort to try to soften the implied criticism of Israel.


My complaint was that OVERALL during the summer of 2014 coverage was imbalanced, not just on any particular story, and Mr. Nagler has not properly addressed this main point.


Nagler: How stories are covered also depends on the significance of the story, its newsworthiness, and what else is going on that day. A major story in one area can draw all of a news organization's attention to the exclusion of most other stories. And of course the coverage depends on the resources available to us at that time.The point here is that trying to make a meaningful comparison between the coverage of stories that happened days or weeks apart is something of a mug's game. The amount of coverage, the style of coverage or even whether a story is covered at all cannot be taken as indicative of partisanship or bias. 

 -----All these points are valid, but they do not address my complaint, which referred to an overall trend. It is a fallacy to raise perfectly legitimate points like these that are not relevant to my complaint and pretend it has been answered

2) Ignoring Inconvenient Evidence


If someone ignores the strongest and most inconvenient elements of a contrary argument, he cannot be said to have honestly addressed it, nor can he be said to have refuted it.


Here are several of my strongest arguments which Mr. Nagler ignored. Instead, for example on racism, he pontificated on how CBC is holier-than-thou in avoiding racism:


From my complaint:


8) CBC gave several headlines, and published details of the one Israeli soldier that was believed to have been captured by Hamas. They described him sympathetically and in great detail, including quotes from his family and family pictures. But in the Israeli bombardments of Rafah that followed this capture, 150 Palestinians were killed, mostly civilians and many children. CBC only reported this as a one-liner. How is it not racist to value the life of one Jewish soldier (a member of a mass-murdering army of occupation) over the lives of hundreds of the Arab victims of Israeli soldiers just like him?


3)      Four Gazan children were blown to smithereens as they were playing soccer on a Gaza beach. This received a little bit of CBC coverage, but no headline, and nothing compared to the coverage of the three kidnapped teenagers. Just do a mind experiment here – if four Jewish children had been killed while playing soccer on a beach, would CBC report it in such a cavalier fashion? Not likely. Racists view the death of the children of what they view as sub-humans, like the Gazan children, as of little importance, while the deaths of Jewish children would be horrifying.


Regarding this last example, Ms. Engler, in the hypothetical case that 4 Israeli children playing soccer on a beach were blown up, do you personally believe that CBC would treat this incident in the same cavalier fashion? It is absolutely unbelievable that CBC would not make a huge deal out of similar Israeli deaths, with photos of the kids, their families, their funerals, and sympathetic lines on how these deaths have saddened and angered the whole nation. There is no way CBC would handle the gruesome murder of Israelis in the same cavalier way they handled this incident of Palestinian children's deaths. If that is not reporting from a biased, racist perspective, then what is it?


Also the big fuss CBC made about one Israeli soldier, compared to the rather blasé treatment of the hundreds killed in the search for him needs to be answered. Again if that is not bias and racism, then what is it?


Mr. Nagler chose to completely ignore these questions. I hope you will not.


Incidentally, just a few days ago, on October 23rd CBC reported on the killing of a Jewish child in Jerusalem at great length, treating it as a lead story. That was not a slow news day, because Canada was still traumatized by the Quebec and Ottawa killings of Canadian soldiers. However on a much slower news day, a full week earlier, CBC did not even report a similar incident where an Israeli settler intentionally ran over a 5-year old Palestinian child in Ramallah. If this is not bias and racism, what is it?


Mr Nagler also ignored this example in my complaint to you:


30) The destruction of civilian infrastructure is normally classified as collective punishment and is considered a war crime. Instead of using these words, CBC calls the civilian infrastructure "symbols of Hamas power", in a complete twisting of legitimate meaning:


Gaza conflict: Israel hits symbols of Hamas rule, cripples power plant

Since when are electric power plants "symbols of rule" for a government or a community? They are not SYMBOLS. They are the life blood of a community. Destroying these electric power plants is an act of collective punishment. It is definitely a crime under international law.

CBC should be putting the criminal, immoral nature of these attacks into the headline, not prettying them up by calling them symbolic acts.

Ms. Engler, I hope you will address this point and not ignore it as Mr. Nagler has done.

Mr. Nagler also chose to ignore this example:

My complaint:  18). In very biased fashion, CBC has reported on the displays of open revulsion by thousands of people around the world at Israel's barbaric attack on Gaza, and tried to misrepresent it. Instead of noting the decency of these protesters and their cause and the fact that 99% of them were peaceful, CBC emphasized the violence of a few incidents that occurred. 


Gaza conflict sparks massive global protests, some violent

Tempers flare at demonstrations and police fire tear gas during clashes with protesters

This headline was accompanied with a picture of violent Parisian youth.


There is NO WAY that this photo is an appropriate portrayal of the fact that so many people are so offended by Israel barbarism that they have come out of their comfort zone and taken to the streets to demonstrate. How can you portray the 99% by the 1%, and be considered balanced?


Dear Ms. Engler, I hope you will address this question as well. 


3) Straw Man Fallacy


Nagler: In one example you pointed to "massive coverage" of an Israeli story, but little coverage of a similar story about Palestinians. The implication appears to be that to be fair the coverage of these stories should be the same. It is a faulty yardstick.

----This is the STRAW MAN fallacy. He is reinterpreting my words to weaken them. I never said that coverage of similar stories must be the same. I said that CBC CONSISTENTLY places much more weight and concern about stories of Israeli suffering, in all situations, not necessarily just this one.

Nagler: First, while journalists are expected to take a balanced approach to complex issues, you wrote, there are issues, such as reporting on the Holocaust, where there is no balance possible and imposing balance becomes "false and misleading". That's the situation in Gaza, you wrote. There is no comparison between the amount of power, injustice and suffering experienced by Israelis and Palestinians, although CBC News stories "pretend there is some kind of symmetry where there is none".

If I understand it correctly, the implication of your analogy – which appears to equate Israel with Nazi Germany – is that we should not cover the Israeli side of the conflict, but only report the death, suffering and damage Israel has inflicted on Gaza.

---- The Straw Man fallacy at work again. I NEVER SAID THE ISRAELI SIDE SHOULD NOT BE COVERED!!!!  When Nagler claims this he is distorting my words intentionally, to make it easier to refute them. This is actually a disgusting tactic.  I said the asymmetry of the conflict needs to be more clearly described, otherwise the conflict will be misunderstood.

Nagler: A moment's reflection should confirm that such a comparison, to use your phrase, is "false and misleading", as well as offensive to many.

-----Why is my comparison offensive?? It is in Nagler's imagination that I "equate Israel to Nazi Germany". Here he is again busily building straw men. I cited the abuses of helpless Jews in Germany as a valid example of a wildly asymmetrical conflict, which is exactly what we have in Gaza. Indeed there are painful parallels between the suffering of the Gazans and the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto, but that is another story.

Nagler: Such one-sided coverage would properly be labeled propaganda, not journalism.

---- So convenient to refute my views as propaganda, when what he is addressing are not even my views. I fear he is calling the kettle black, because Mr. Nagler's CBC is in the business of disseminating propaganda.

4)      Pretending to address my concern while dodging it

Nagler: It is difficult to respond specifically, in the absence of examples. I'm sure CBC News stories have said Israel launched airstrikes in response to Hamas firing rockets. It is also true that our stories have said Hamas launched rockets into Israel following Israeli air strikes or artillery attacks.

------Nagler misses the point entirely here. Hamas did not just launch rockets into Israel just because of  Israeli air strikes. Hamas started large-scale launching of rockets in response to the brutal way in which Israel responded to the kidnapping. This point was never made in any of the CBC coverage and it is very relevant. Also the kidnapping did not happen in isolation, but it was probably in retaliation for the dozen Israeli killings during Nakba Day in May. My point, which Nagler ignores, is that CBC always seem to qualify Israeli actions as a "Response", while Hamas' actions are not properly explained as a response to something.

If Mr. Nagler had made the effort to go back and examine all the articles he would find that EVERY time, the qualifying phrase is added to Israeli actions "as a response", but that ALMOST NEVER are Hamas actions qualified with any phrase at all. 

Nagler: The Middle East is one of the most difficult places in the world for reporters to do their job. Every event has an antecedent. And every antecedent has an antecedent. It is no surprise that supporters of both sides feel passionate about the way the issues are presented by the media and are upset when one fact or another does not make it into a report. But realistically, they cannot. We have carried many stories about the history of the conflict. We've explored the competing views – the conventional ones and those that are less so – often at some length. But all of that information cannot be included in every story.

News is about what is new. We include enough information to help readers understand the significance of the events they are reading about. But it would be impossible to conduct normal journalistic operations if we were to assume that readers came to our stories about the conflict with no background information at all.

------In CBC there is always room for a qualifying phrase "in response to Hamas rockets", but no room to do the same for Hamas. This justification is inadequate.

Nagler:  You wrote that an August 3 story said, in part, that Egypt and Israel imposed the blockade on Gaza "after the Islamic militant group overran the territory in 2007". Hamas won a legitimate election in 2007" you wrote, asking "how can that be described as an 'over run'"?

In fact, Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian legislative election defeating Fatah. The two formed a national unity government early in 2007, but it was dissolved shortly afterward when Hamas seized government offices in Gaza throwing out Fatah officials. 

----The reality is that Hamas was the legitimately elected government of both the West Bank and Gaza, but it was "DRIVEN OUT" of the West Bank by Fatah. It retained its position in Gaza, somewhat violently, but that in NO WAY can be described as the "overrunning" of Gaza.

----Here Nagler ignores my reference to the word "overrun". He refuses to even comment on whether a better word might have been chosen. Indeed in his comment he replaced it with "seized government offices", which is equally false.

What is the definition of "overrun'? It is "invade, swarm over in great numbers like vermin, to attack and defeat an enemy position". The word "overrun" has nasty connotations and is clearly not appropriate here, but even on this one tiny point, Nagler refuses to concede that CBC could have used a better, more neutral word.

The word "overrun" has strong connotations of illegitimacy and taking over by violence. It is used in order to demonize and demean Hamas, and essentially hides and ignores the truth about how Hamas came to govern Gaza through a democratic election. If Mr. Nagler was even slightly sincere in his handling of my complaint, he would at least have conceded to me that a more neutral word should have been used. He claims CBC does not take sides in the conflict, but using language like this to describe Hamas, but not to describe Israel (which has done a lot of "over running itself) is imbalanced and biased.

Here is another example:

Nagler: In a story posted ten days later (on June 25) under the headline, "Kidnapping of 3 young Israeli men raises tensions with Hamas", the focus had shifted entirely. (You can find the story here: The story reported that thousands of Israel soldiers, police and security agents were coursing through the West Bank searching thousands of homes and imposing restrictions on the residents.  It said that thousands of Palestinians had taken to the streets to protest what they saw as a crackdown. It said that four Palestinians including a teenager had been killed by Israeli forces and over 400 people arrested at that point, including 250 Hamas members. It said the measures were seen as an Israeli effort to deal a blow to the organization and dismantle its infrastructure in the West Bank. The story said that the Israeli operation had drawn criticism from human rights groups who said it amounted to collective punishment. It quoted a UN official as saying the rising death toll was "alarming" and warning Israel not to punish individuals for crimes they have not committed.   

------I did not say that did not cover this story. Mr. Nagler ignores my point which was that it did not cover it in sufficient detail to reveal how abusive and immoral it was. It gave it very limited, incomplete coverage, and then failed to point out how much it humiliated, abused and angered Palestinians and how it could be seen as the direct cause of increased Hamas rocket fire at Israel. never mentioned that most of the Hamas people arrested, without charge or evidence, where individuals who had recently been released under an agreement with Hamas, and that their re-arrest was a gross violation of that agreement. This is highly relevant, but it is missing. If Mr. Nagler really wanted to address my concern, he would explain exactly why this highly relevant fact was never mentioned.

Also where were the photos and personal stories of the Palestinians killed in these raids? Where was the sympathetic coverage of the suffering of their families? And CBC failed to go into sufficient detail of how abusive the raids were – the kicking down of hundreds if not thousands of doors, the midnight raids terrorizing children, and the very relevant fact that the majority of Hamas members arrested were those recently released from Israeli prisons, and in re-arresting them was reneging on agreements with Hamas. THIS IS PROBABLY THE MAIN REASON WHY HAMAS STARTED HEAVY FIRING OF ROCKETS AT ISRAEL. This is extremely relevant information, and I referenced it in my complaint to you. In ignoring this point, Nagler is again giving a fallacious argument that ignores KEY elements of my complaint.

Another example:

Nagler: The story you cited was posted on July 23 – after two weeks of fighting – under the headline, "Hamas arsenal suggests 'apocalyptic' scenario: Israeli official". The story was not from the Middle East, but related the contents of a PowerPoint briefing given to Canadian reporters in Ottawa by a "senior Israeli defence official". The anonymous official described the weapons, the tunnels and the threat posed to his country by Hamas and the militants in Gaza.  At one point, the report said, he "painted an 'apocalyptic' scenario", one "where Hamas and its backers in Qatar and Iran might be capable of coordinated attacks with Hezbollah … which has also stockpiled rockets on Israel's northern border".

That is the view of an anonymous Israeli military media briefer. It is our obligation to carry a range views on controversial issues such as this, even those with which you do not agree. This story was one of hundreds of stories published and broadcast by CBC News during July and August focusing on different aspects of the conflict.

Here is my comment to the Ombudsman:

Hamas arsenal suggests 'apocalyptic' scenario: Israeli official

West 'cannot tolerate' advanced capabilities discovered in Gaza, Israeli official says


Hamas is a tiny little resistance movement facing one of the world's most powerful militaries, but CBC saw fit to quote this asinine claim that Hamas threatens the Western world?


----The story and its headline were nonsensical. The Israeli briefer said that Hamas was actually a threat to the West. In fact Hamas is not even much of a threat to Israel. Is CBC really obliged to publish glaring headlines based on nonsensical claims like this? And if they must, where is the balancing article from another source pointing out how nonsensical this claim is? And the fact that it was published during the height of the violence clearly supports the Israeli side, and is not balanced. Also if Mr. Nagler was sincere, he would give me some examples of where CBC has highlighted equally asinine claims against Israel in glaring headlines.

Another example:

Nagler: 29) You wrote that a CBC News story included the word "'terrorism'", a word you described as "badly misused" and "propaganda". You cited a story that included this sentence: "'We believe there is a great likelihood this was a terrorist attack,' Piranti said". 

The words "terrorist" and "terrorism" are used in CBC News stories to describe particular acts or people, but usually only when attributed.  In other words, if presidents, prime ministers, political leaders, police chiefs, and the like, use them, they are freely included in our reporting – and attributed to the person who used them.

 But as with many of the leading news organizations in the western world, the CBC's practice – and it has been the practice in CBC newsrooms for over 30 years now – is to try to avoid using the words on their own as a form of description without attribution. Given the often political and premature use of these words, our preference is to describe the act or individual, as a "militant", "bomber" or "gunman," for instance, and let the reader make his own judgment about the nature of the event.

Here again Mr. Nagler dodges my point. I noted in my complaint that CBC does not directly use this word, but frequently quotes others using it. But CBC does not frequently quote non-Israelis using harsh, and perhaps inappropriate, vocabulary about Israel, such as words like "genocide" and "ethnic cleansing".

Indeed a good example is in my example 19) which Mr. Nagler chose to ignore. Here CBC quotes a non-entity (Jon Vioght) nonsensically accusing critics of Israel's barbarity in Gaza of anti-Semitism, but did not quote in a full article the words of the Spanish actors' manifesto that accused Israel of genocide. This is a good example of selective quotations.



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