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December 16, 2004 — 4 Tevet, 5765

‘Drop’ TV reporter for anti-Israel bias, CBC urged

By L. Viviane Spiegelman

Tribune Correspondent

“Neil Macdonald has crossed all journalistic lines with his accusation that Israel is guilty of war crimes because it defends itself against terrorism,” said an outraged Frank Dimant, executive vice president of B’nai Brith Canada.  “Implicit in his comments is the outrageous suggestion that Jewish civilians living in the West Bank and Gaza may be legitimate targets for terrorism.” 

“As the nation’s public broadcaster, the CBC is ultimately dependent on Canadian taxpayers for its continued existence. Canadians are entitled to quality programming, with assurance of integrity and neutrality on all issues,” Diamant said.

Diamant was referring to comments made by Macdonald on the CBC web site on Dec. 3. Macdonald commenting on a new UN report, wrote, “If Palestinians have committed terror, the Israelis have certainly committed war crimes. There is also the question of whether the Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza, thousands of whom are well armed and overtly bellicose, constitute civilians or combatants.”

B’nai Brith Canada has asked for an immediate review of Macdonald’s conduct. Failure to ensure Macdonald’s adherence to core journalistic principles, would make the CBC complicit in a process through which ‘double standards,’ demonization, and ‘deligitimization’ of Israel have become the order of the day.

Dov Smith of Honest Reporting Canada, a Toronto-based media watchdog, says, “Macdonald’s comments bear an uncomfortable resemblance to Professor Mohamed Elmasry’s universally denounced statement legitimizing attacks against all Israelis over 18.”

In a separate incident only three days later – a bizarre echo of a May report that necessitated two on-air apologies and what CBC news editor-in-chief Tony Burman had termed,  “a lapse that somehow slipped through the system,”  – reporting on-air from Washington on Dec. 6, Macdonald linked Israel to the deadly al Qaeda attack on the US consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.  Macdonald, interviewing Allen Keiswetter of the Middle East Institute, shows Keiswetter saying,  “I think the principal reason (for the attack) is our policies on the Arab-Israeli issues. This is extremely important. We’re now regarded as being very much in the pockets of (Israeli Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon.  And the second reason, of course, is Iraq.”

Keiswetter was the only expert interviewed in Macdonald’s entire report.

When HRC contacted the Middle East Institute, it was told the Institute’s funding comes primarily from the following sources:  Abdul Latif Jameel Corporation in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Chevron Texaco; Conoco Phillips; Exxon; Raytheon; Saudi Aramco and Shell International. (In May, Macdonald’s story on the Abu Ghraib prison abuses quoted a known anti-Israel lobbyist who falsely implicated Israeli agents in the affair.)

Smith, HRC’s executive director, said the group asked its membership to petition the CBC to drop Macdonald from The National  for his obvious and repeated anti-Israel bias. The action call generated “the most intense, well-articulated and intelligent” letter-writing campaign in HRC’s history, Smith said. 

He said, “People have really thought about this and many writers specifically pointed out that they aren’t even Jewish.

“We take pains to avoid extreme positions, but in cases of obvious bias, we feel that there is no other choice but to ask news organizations to drop the offenders.”

After Macdonald’s May report, Tony Burman had said “. . . we have modified our editorial processes and procedures to ensure that this situation is never repeated.”

CBC Ombudsman David Bazay stated that Burman’s internal review had identified a ‘glaringly obvious’ problem:  ‘the failure to run background checks on experts and spokespersons who make allegations in news stories’.

Bazay found that while he did not find Macdonald guilty of bias, “Under CBC journalism policy reporters, editors and producers must not only avoid bias; they must avoid the appearance of bias.” 

He agreed that Macdonald’s report had exposed The National to the appearance of bias.

Honest Reporting says that in the Jeddah bombing story, by going out of his way to involve Israel in a story that had nothing to do with it, Macdonald is guilty not only of the appearance of bias, but of bias itself.

Honest Reporting is in the process of filing letters of complaint to the CBC. Its response will determine Honest Reporting’s next course of action.

If CBC has modified its procedures to avoid a repeat of the erroneous May story, what happened this time?

Several telephone calls to Tony Burman were not returned by deadline.

However, Ruth-Ellen Soles, CBC spokesperson, forwarded a letter signed by Cynthia Kinch, English TV’s director of programming.

Kinch, answering questions the Jewish Tribune never got a chance to ask, confirmed Keiswetter’s statement added:

“Mr. Keiswetter was making a point about US foreign policy, expressing an opinion that the bombing can be seen as a reaction to US policy in the middle east especially in relation to Israel. Mr Keiswetter was fully contexted (sic) in the piece. We explained who he is and where his expertise comes from.

“The notion that journalists should not include opinion from experts on ANY story is not to understand (sic) what journalism is about.”

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