CBC reporters tell different tales about Israel

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Protester holds sign at anti-Baird rally

When Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird’s convoy got pelted with eggs and shoes by Palestinian protesters in Ramallah, in the West Bank yesterday, CBC radio and TV saw things quite differently.

Radio framed the story narrowly, telling it mainly from Baird (and Israel’s) point of view, while CBC TV presented a more critical and nuanced account that explained why Palestinians see Canada’s support for Israel as a threat.

The introduction to the radio report on The World This Weekend told listeners: “Demonstrators were angry with the Canadian government’s perceived pro-Israel stance” as though Canada’s fervent, unqualified and well-publicized support for Israel was a matter of perception, not fact. CBC Radio’s Middle East correspondent Derek Stoffel explained that, “Protesters say they don’t like Canada’s position when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They accuse Canada of blindly siding with Israel.”

Stoffel went on to note that Baird got a much friendlier reception later in Jerusalem when he met Israel’s foreign minister. “They both took aim at the International Criminal Court,” Stoffel said, adding, “In a provocative move, the Palestinian leadership asked to join the ICC and the court is now considering whether it will investigate Israeli war crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories.”

Stoffel then made it clear that both Baird and his Israeli counterpart strongly objected to the Palestinians going to the ICC with Baird calling on them to negotiate with Israel — a reference, though Stoffel didn’t say it, to the endless “peace process” that Israel uses to buy time while it builds illegal Jewish settlements on Palestinian land.

CBC Television’s different picture

The introduction to the TV report on The National told viewers about “Baird’s rough reception” in Ramallah and promised more details about “the reason behind it.” Correspondent Saša Petricic began by noting that, “It used to be that Palestinians in the Occupied Territories saw Canada as a friend or at least an honest broker — not so, today.”

After giving details about the flying eggs and shoes, Petricic reported that later in Jerusalem, Israel’s foreign minister heard Baird’s “unconditional endorsement of Israel.” He added: “Baird scolded Palestinian attempts to end the occupation through the UN or other bodies.” Then he showed a clip of Baird saying:

But these provocative, unilateral actions will not contribute to peace and security in the region. We also strongly support Israel’s right to defend itself by itself and we’ll play our part to defend it from international efforts to de-legitimize the State of Israel.

“Not a word about Israeli settlements in the West Bank,” Petricic added, “which Ottawa has long considered illegal under international law. And no criticism of Israel’s actions during last summer’s Gaza war which the International Criminal Court has started investigating at the request of the Palestinians.”

Petricic concluded by noting, “Israel has asked for Canada’s help in pressuring the court to drop its investigation. Baird didn’t commit Ottawa to any particular action, but he was sympathetic, far too sympathetic say the Palestinians who now see Canada as standing in the way of their statehood.”

Two reporters, two stories

One of the weaknesses of reporting in mainstream media is the tendency to parrot what powerful officials say and to frame stories from their point of view while ignoring historical context and glossing over specific details.

CBC Radio’s account of the Palestinian protests against Baird is a good example. Derek Stoffel refers to the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict” as though it’s a bloodless, two-sided contest between equals. In his account, Israel and Canada are calling for peace talks while the Palestinians make a “provocative move,” pressing the International Criminal Court to investigate Israeli war crimes.

With the help of Petricic’s reporting, we see that Stoffel echoes Baird’s own words — “provocative and unilateral actions” — as Canada’s foreign affairs minister scolds the Palestinians for trying, in Petricic’s words, “to end the occupation through the UN and other bodies.”

There’s no mention in Stoffel’s reporting (or in Baird’s remarks) of the expanding Jewish settlements, while Petricic points out that Canada has long considered them illegal under international law.

So, why were Palestinian protesters pelting Baird’s convoy with eggs and shoes? Was it because, as Stoffel said, “they accuse Canada of blindly siding with Israel”? Or was Petricic closer to the truth when he reported that Palestinians “now see Canada as standing in the way of their statehood”?

About Bruce Wark

Bruce Wark is a freelance journalist and retired journalism professor who lives in Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada. He taught the history and ethics of journalism at the University of King's College in Halifax, Nova Scotia for 15 years. Before that, he worked for 19 years at CBC Radio news serving as a producer in charge of such network programs as World at Six, World Report and The House. He also produced Media File, a national program that looked critically at the performance of the news media. Along the way, Wark also worked as CBC Radio's legislative reporter in Ontario and as its National Reporter in Canada's Maritime provinces.
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