Do 82% really support anti-terror law?

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Angus Reid online survey of 1,509 adults conducted Feb. 9-11

Every mainstream media outlet in Canada is reporting that 82 per cent of Canadians support Bill C-51, the Harper government’s proposed “anti-terror” legislation. The reporting makes the 82 per cent figure seem certain even though the Angus Reid poll it’s based on was not a random sample of the whole population and more than half of those who took part in the survey knew little or nothing about the new legislation.

Globe and Mail coverage was typical. The newspaper ran an “analysis” piece under the headline, “New poll finds Harper’s anti-terror bill is a political juggernaut.” The paper’s chief political writer, Campbell Clark, began with a declaration: “There’s rarely been a bill before Parliament that was more popular. The public (sic) Conservatives’ new anti-terror legislation is filling a public demand for tough new measures aimed at a terrorism threat that Canadians believe is serious, and close to home, according to a new poll.”

It took Clark 12 paragraphs to tell readers how the poll was done. “The Internet survey was conducted with a randomly selected sample of 1,509 Canadians drawn from an Angus Reid panel.”

After the piece ends 17 paragraphs down, an editor’s note informs readers that an earlier version of the story mistakenly gave the poll’s margin of error. “Because it was not a random sample of the whole population, the pollster, the Angus Reid Institute, does not cite a margin of error,” the editor’s note continued. It then went on to say that the margin of error the pollster did give was for  a “probabilistic sample of the same size.”


Questions about the accuracy of online polls

The Pew Research Center in the U.S. warns that online polls have their limitations. For one thing, participation is limited to people with access to the Internet. For another, online polls like this one are based on panels of people who volunteer to fill out surveys in return for small amounts of money, a chance to win prizes and the promise that their opinions will influence elite decision-makers. (See below for more details on the Angus Reid panels. For more detailed information about the limitations of online polls, see this 2010 report from the American Association for Public Opinion Research.)

Aside from concerns about the limitations of online polling, more than half of those who took part in the survey knew little or nothing about Bill C-51. In fact, only 18 per cent seem to have paid much attention to media reports and what friends and family had to say.

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So why attach any significance to this poll?

Well, it’s an election year and for months, journalists have been scrambling to figure out which issues may favour one party or another. It’s part of the media fascination with the political horse race, who’s gaining and who’s losing. And the polls, with their precise numbers, seem to offer answers.

As they say, perception is reality.

How Angus Reid puts his panels together

Angus Reid panellists are volunteers who sign up to complete monthly profiling questionnaires. The links to the online surveys are emailed to them. The surveys ask for information about a range of things such as age, income, family size, lifestyle, consumer preferences and habits as well as opinions on current political issues.

Panellists are told their opinions will influence decision-makers “whether they are developing public policy or moulding new products and services. Your voice will be heard in the media as they report on the changing values and preferences of the Canadian public.”

In return for taking part, panellists are eligible to receive small amounts of money, usually 50 cents for each profiling survey, plus a chance to win monthly prizes. Panellists can redeem their “survey dollars” only when their total reaches $50. They also earn additional survey dollars if they fill out other questionnaires that the company invites them to complete.


From the Globe and Mail, Feb. 19, 2015:

Editor’s Note: The original newspaper version of this story and an earlier digital version mistakenly referred to a margin of error for this poll. The poll was conducted with a randomly selected sample of 1,509 people drawn from an Angus Reid panel of 130,000 people. Because it was not a random sample of the whole population, the pollster, the Angus Reid Institute, does not cite a margin of error. It instead noted the margin of error for a probabilistic sample of the same size. This digital version has been corrected.

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Do 82% really support anti-terror law?

CBC reporters tell different tales about Israel

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Baird poster

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”?

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CBC reporters tell different tales about Israel

Jesus Murphy, Rex, wake up & smell the coffee

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images As our Toyota hurtled through darkness and rain last Sunday evening, my spouse pleaded with me to “turn the damn thing off.” She was referring to Cross Country Checkup, the CBC radio phone-in hosted by the tendentiously garrulous Rex Murphy.

Murphy was wondering whether Canadian police and security agencies need more powers to combat those who might pose a threat in light of the fatal attacks on soldiers near Montreal and at the National War Memorial in Ottawa. In the twin-sided, either/or formula so beloved by mainstream journalists, Murphy presented it as a choice between civil liberties and public safety.

“How much power can we give the security agencies?” he asked. “How do we balance the need to keep Canada safe with the need, the necessity for civil liberties in a democracy?”

“Us” vs. “Them”

Murphy also resorted to the tried and true journalistic formula of a simple, two-sided conflict: Innocent, law-abiding Canadians versus the terrorist evildoers who threaten their safety. The rational versus the irrational; us versus them.

Unfortunately, Murphy’s framing prevailed. Not a single caller mentioned Canada’s foreign policy and nor did the so-called experts Murphy interviewed. Not a single mention of Canadian participation in foreign wars including our long campaign in Afghanistan and our bombing runs in Libya and Iraq. Not a single mention of Canada’s failure to condemn Israeli attacks on Palestinians and in Lebanon. Not a single mention of Canada’s role in overthrowing a popular and democratically elected president in Haiti. And no mention that so many of Canada’s aboriginal peoples live in poverty and squalor.

Hey Rex, here’s a thought from an expert you might have interviewed on Sunday:

Everybody’s worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there’s a really easy way: stop participating in it. — Noam Chomsky

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Jesus Murphy, Rex, wake up & smell the coffee

Occupation? What occupation? Part Two

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Terry Milewski

Terry Milewski is a CBC journalist who makes it a practice to speak truth to power. At times, that practice has landed him in trouble, but so far, he’s survived. After all, journalists are supposed to speak truth to power, to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

But not, it seems, when it comes to the Israeli occupation of Palestine and its military assault on Gaza. Mainstream Canadian journalists tend to avoid the word “occupation” and Milewski is no exception.

Yesterday, as guest host of the CBC Radio program The House, Milewski interviewed Michael Bell, former Canadian ambassador to Israel, Egypt and Jordan. The interview was framed around the notion that no long-term solution to the violence in Gaza is possible. Bell asserted that Hamas “depends on these disturbances to empower their base” while Milewski suggested that the Israeli blockade of Gaza is justified.

“What about the core demands of Hamas for a permanent settlement?” Milewski asked adding, “They want the blockade lifted and the seaport opened and simultaneously they remain committed to eradicating the state of Israel and to killing Jews. So this surely is going to be seen by the Israelis as a complete non-starter, as an opportunity for an open door for Hamas to re-arm and buy more rockets and more tunnels.”

Bell responded that while the demand for more open borders is legitimate, “Israel faces an enemy, if you like, whose ultimate goal is not just the flow of goods and services and what have you into Gaza, but whose ultimate goal is the destruction of the state of Israel, the Jewish state.”

Neither man seemed aware of the obvious. That Israel is steadily destroying Palestine. As Noam Chomsky writes:

Amid all the horrors unfolding in the latest Israeli offensive in Gaza, Israel’s goal is simple: quiet-for-quiet, a return to the norm.

For the West Bank, the norm is that Israel continues its illegal construction of settlements and infrastructure so that it can integrate into Israel whatever might be of value, meanwhile consigning Palestinians to unviable cantons and subjecting them to repression and violence.

For Gaza, the norm is a miserable existence under a cruel and destructive siege that Israel administers to permit bare survival but nothing more.

To be sure, Michael Bell and Terry Milewski are not alone among Canada’s political elites in ignoring military occupation as the root cause of the conflict. Nor are they alone in justifying Israel’s war on Palestinians.

The ruling Conservatives vigorously defend Israel’s slaughter in Gaza while the New Democrats and Liberals talk about “Israel’s right to defend itself.”  Only the Green Party, led by Elizabeth May, has pointed out that Israel’s invasion of Gaza violates international law.

Maybe the CBC show that bills itself as “Canada’s most popular political affairs program” will find the courage to interview Elizabeth May.

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Theodore Tugboat leads CBC suicide mission

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Theodore T steams toward oblivion

A single-source, puff piece in today’s Halifax Chronicle-Herald says Andrew Cochran, senior managing director for CBC in Atlantic Canada, is heading to Toronto to spearhead the public broadcaster’s five-year suicide mission named “Strategy 2020.”

The Herald actually calls it a “survival plan,” but a so-called “strategy” that cheerily chops another 1,500 staff jobs by 2020 and puts the development of digital and mobile media ahead of programming on radio and TV, looks more like suicide to me.

Cochran himself is best known as the independent producer whose company created the hugely successful children’s TV series, Theodore Tugboat. Since 2007, he’s been CBC’s head honcho on Canada’s east coast where he oversaw a disastrous plan to boost supper-hour TV news ratings. In 2010, I wrote a piece in the weekly Coast magazine that included this:

Ten years ago, CBC Halifax cut its TV supper-hour news in half and gutted the staff. Ratings fell to near zero and advertisers fled. In a desperate attempt to revive the Mother Corpse, CBC managers came up with a 90-minute show based on the “action news” format touted by American consultants. If you want to gauge quality, tune in at 5pm and chug a beer for every crime, accident, fire or weather story; you’ll be shit-faced by 5:15.

In 2011, this mediaspin blogpost tried to show how dumbing down the news also made CBC’s political coverage more sensational and less accurate.

The headline in today’s Halifax Herald says “Andrew Cochran’s herculean task is to save CBC.” With his record so far, I’d say he’s more likely to help kill it.

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Occupation? What Occupation?

CBC fails to question Canadian gov’t line on Israel/Gaza

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Rosemary Barton

Jason Kenney, a senior minister in Canada’s Conservative government, delivered a ringing defence of Israel’s latest attacks on Gaza during the July 19th edition of the CBC Radio program, The House, while guest host Rosemary Barton listened politely.

I suppose it would have been rude to remind Kenney of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land and its devastating siege of Gaza that has made life a misery for the 1.8 million Palestinians crammed into 365 square kilometres.

“More than three-quarters of them are refugees whose families fled or were driven from their land in what is now Israel in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war,” the Reuters news agency reported in 2009 during a previous Israeli assault.  The report added that most Gazans live on less than $2 a day, thanks to Israel’s blockade.

To be fair, Barton did ask about the deaths of Palestinian civilians, “many of them children,” but she said nothing more while Kenney claimed that Israel gives people ample warnings before its attacks. He went on to blame Hamas, not Israel, for the deaths (see transcript below).

Canadian politicians know that when CBC  journalists ask for an interview, they’re apt to face tough questions. But in this case, Barton pulled her punches.  The interview was billed as a chance to get the government’s perspective on events in Ukraine and the Middle East. It ran 10 minutes and 18 seconds, but only four minutes were devoted to Israel and Gaza. In the transcript below, I’ll show how, instead of listening politely, Barton might have raised issues that would have required Jason Kenney to give a fuller, more nuanced defence of the Canadian government’s perspective on Israel and Gaza. Since The House has a total of 48 minutes and 27 seconds of network air-time each week, there was plenty of time to get into these issues if the producers had really wanted to.


CBC Radio, The House, July 19, 2014. Rosemary Barton (RB) interviews Employment and Social Development Minister, Jason Kenney (JK) about the latest conflict between Israel and Gaza. Sections in bold type raise issues that Barton could (and should) have asked about.

RB: Let me move to Middle East…obviously major developments there as well, the Israeli military now carrying out a ground incursion into Gaza that started on Thursday. Do you believe that this was the only option?

JK: Well, we’ll leave it to the Israeli government to determine what are the right options to respond to this kind of belligerent aggression, but the facts are clear: a terrorist organization whose charter repeatedly calls for the elimination of the Jewish state has launched some 1,300 missiles indiscriminately at Israeli civilian targets. No sovereign country in the world would tolerate this kind of indiscriminate violence targeting civilians without a robust military response and I find the criticism of Israel for having done so a terrible double standard and of course Israel demonstrated yet again this week its willingness to engage in a ceasefire negotiated by the Egyptian government. Hamas’s response to the proposed ceasefire was another hundred missiles being lobbed at civilian targets. So, it seems to me that the Israeli government has not just the right, but clearly the responsibility to act against those who are responsible for this violence.

(1) Kenney blames “a terrorist organization” for “belligerent aggression” against a “sovereign country.” He fails to mention why Hamas, which governs Gaza, might resist Israeli actions such as the continued occupation of Palestinian lands and the ongoing, punitive siege of Gaza. (Neither is mentioned during the interview.) 

(2) Kenney blames Hamas for rejecting a ceasefire “negotiated by the Egyptian government.” But according to this July 17 report from the BBC, it seems that neither side had agreed to a ceasefire: Israel’s foreign minister and Hamas have denied earlier reports of a truce deal to end fighting in Gaza between Israel and Palestinian militants.”

RB: You talked about the civilian casualties, certainly there seems to be a higher number on the Palestinian side, 265, many of them children. Overall, do you think enough is being done to protect civilians in this struggle?

JK: Every civilian death in any conflict of course is tragic and everything should be done to avoid civilian casualties and I believe when you actually look at the operations of the Israeli Defence Forces in advising people in particular areas that there may be military action, advising them to leave certain buildings or areas, autodialing them, dropping leaflets, sending in dummy missiles that are not armed, all as signs of warning, but the problem of course tactically is that Hamas uses human shields. They store their missiles and launchers including in UNRWA UN refugee schools, in mosques, close to hospitals and in apartment blocks and this further underscores that Hamas is responsible for the violence. Every death that’s occurring there is ultimately caused by the outrageous, indiscriminate violence and belligerence of Hamas. Obviously, Israel should act with as much restraint as possible to avoid civilian casualties, but it’s not Israel that is indiscriminately launching missiles at civilian targets.

(1) Kenney claims Israeli warnings prevent deaths in crowded neighbourhoods, but even if that were true, hundreds of Gazans are still being killed. On July 16, Human Rights Watch issued a news release that condemned both Israel and Hamas for targeting civilians, but levelled its harshest criticism at Israel:

Israeli air attacks in Gaza investigated by Human Rights Watch have been targeting apparent civilian structures and killing civilians in violation of the laws of war. Israel should end unlawful attacks that do not target military objectives and may be intended as collective punishment or broadly to destroy civilian property. Deliberate or reckless attacks violating the laws of war are war crimes, Human Rights Watch said.

The news release added this about Israel’s warnings to civilians:

For warnings to be effective, civilians need adequate time to leave and go to a place of safety before an attack. In several cases Human Rights Watch investigated, Israel gave warnings, but carried out the attack within five minutes or less. Given that Gaza has no bomb shelters, civilians realistically often have no place to flee.

(2) On July 18, Amnesty International issued an equally hard-hitting news release in which it condemned both Hamas and Israel for “war crimes.” The Amnesty release says Israel provided no evidence that would justify its attacks on civilians contrary to Kenney’s claim that the attacks were justified militarily. The release added:

Israeli air strikes and shelling have also caused devastating damage to water and sanitation infrastructure across the Gaza Strip. Three workers have been killed trying to make critical repairs and continuing hostilities have made such work too dangerous in many areas. On 16 July, the UN reported that at least half of Gaza’s population – some 900,000 people – were not receiving water. Damage to sewage and pumping facilities and the resulting potential for contamination of water supplies has created a public health emergency.

RB: Finally, let me ask you how do you think this ends…In previous conflicts there has been some success at weakening Hamas. Is the end goal the end of Hamas or do you think it’s a ceasefire? What do you think is possible at this point?

JK: Well, we would hope that Hamas, that the leadership of Hamas would reconsider the offer by Egypt which has historically played a brokerage role between it and Israel at least to allow for a ceasefire to [ensure the] stablization of the situation. And we would also call on the Palestinian Authority which is in a coalition government with Hamas to use everything at its disposal to end Hamas’s belligerence. But I don’t think we should be naive about the nature or the objectives of Hamas. Their stated objectives since their foundation have been the destruction of the Jewish state in the Middle East and regrettably this is an organization that’s a cancer in the Middle East that has chosen violence as a path. We hope that their leadership will realize that they’re only punishing their own people by continuing this indiscriminate violence targeting civilians and will pursue instead the path of peace perhaps negotiated by Egypt and other countries in the region.

(1) Kenney repeats the often-heard line that Hamas is bent on  the “destruction of the Jewish state” without mentioning that Israel refuses to recognize the Palestinians’ claims for a state of their own. A July 13th report from the Times of Israel reveals that the Israeli prime minister is steadfastly opposed to Palestinian sovereignty. “Netanyahu finally speaks his mind,” the headline reads, “He wasn’t saying that he doesn’t support a two-state solution. He was saying that it’s impossible.”

(2) As a spokesman for the Canadian government, Kenney contradicts longstanding Canadian policy on Israel and the Palestinians. The policy is still there for all to see on the Foreign Affairs Canada website. Here is just one excerpt:

Canada does not recognize permanent Israeli control over territories occupied in 1967 (the Golan Heights, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip). The Fourth Geneva Convention applies in the occupied territories and establishes Israel’s obligations as an occupying power, in particular with respect to the humane treatment of the inhabitants of the occupied territories. As referred to in UN Security Council Resolutions 446 and 465, Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The settlements also constitute a serious obstacle to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace.

RB: Minister Kenney, thank you for your time this morning.

JK: Thank you very much.


P.S. today, July 21, Costas Halavrezos sent this message (and web link) to mediaspin:

There are many disturbing elements in the way the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been framed, both by the combatants and by those looking on from a safe distance. But the cynicism of our federal government’s one-dimensional stance is best exemplified in the video it promptly sent out to the target audience for both its policy & its fundraising.

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