Open Letter to the CBC Radio-Canada Ombudsman.
Mainstream media in Canada claims to provide a neutral stance when reporting on issues related to Palestine. Being neutral means reporting on facts and providing proportional coverage of those facts. On July 19th, Radio-Canada, Quebec’s largest French-speaking news outlet and a beneficiary of Canadian public funds, wrote a news article about a Montreal Palestinian solidarity demonstration that omitted important facts and misrepresented the events that occurred.
The first thing you learn in journalism school about reporting on facts is to always report on the 5 W’s: Who? What? Where? When? Why?
Radio-Canada failed to mention why this particular protest was organized and generalized the entire demonstration as “pro-Gaza”. Saturday’s protest was organized particularly to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the International Court of Justice’s ruling that deemed the Israeli Separation or Apartheid Wall illegal. Protesters were opposing the continued building of the illegal wall, which is built inside the border of the Occupied West Bank. Through the construction of this wall Israel has managed to illegally annex a considerable part of the Occupied West Bank, separating communities and families. Protesters were not only demanding an end to Israel’s assault on Gaza and Canadian support for Israel but also an end to Israel’s blockade on the Gaza strip, occupation of Palestinian land, and its violations of international law. They wanted to remind Canadians that the assault on Gaza is part of a broader problem. Protesters called for people to engage in the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign to end Israeli Apartheid, which was mentioned nowhere in the article.
The article failed to accurately mention what happened at the protest. Aside from a small incident that took up half of Radio-Canada’s article that we will talk about later in this letter, Radio-Canada failed to mention that the “giant Palestinian flag” that protesters were carrying is actually the longest Palestinian flag in the world; a Montreal record-breaking achievement that took place this past May. Organizers were trying to break a second Guinness world record by gathering the largest number of signatures on the flag. It will be taken to Occupied Ramallah in September and will be displayed at the Yasser Arafat monument. Radio-Canada also failed to mention that some of the organizers were marching while holding an imitation Apartheid Wall, which was a clear visual clue as to why the protest was organized in the first place.
Radio-Canada simplified facts by labeling all protesters as pro-Gaza supporters rather than identifying the different groups who endorsed the rally, which would have demonstrated to the reader the extent to which resistance to Israeli policies is organized and growing in Montreal. Organizations that endorsed the demonstration include Palestinian and Jewish Unity (PAJU), the Middle East Solidarity Collective Tadamon!, the Coalition for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPP), the Quebec Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN), the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW-STTP), The Quebec National Teachers Federation (FNEEQ-CSN), and the Conseil Régional FTQ du Montréal Métropolitain (CRFTQ-MM), among others.
Radio-Canada even got the “where” wrong! Yes, the protest began and ended on the streets Saint-Laurent and Gary-Carter but the article failed to mention that this location was chosen because it is directly in front of the Montreal G4S Office. G4S is a British-Danish security company that supplies services and equipment to Israeli prisons where Palestinians are held without charge or trial in Administrative Detention and where the torture of Palestinians has been reported by human rights groups as a regular occurrence. The company also supplies the full-body scanning equipment to the more than 500 checkpoints that operate along the Wall that impede Palestinian freedom of movement. Protesters called on the Quebec Government, which holds shares in the company, to divest from it just as the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation did last month, as part of a wave of recent international BDS successes.
On the plus side, Radio-Canada can proudly claim that it got the when right since the protest did indeed take place on July 19th.
Not only were these facts omitted from the article but what Radio-Canada did choose to report on was a disproportionate and sensationalist version of events. At the beginning of the protest, a woman waving an Israeli flag entered the crowd of Palestinian supporters. When she was asked to leave and refused to do so, one of the protesters tried to take her flag from her resulting in her falling down. She was quickly brought to her feet by the other protesters and was peacefully tolerated by the protesters for the remaining two hours of the demonstration as she marched down the street waving her Israeli flag. In total, the confrontational moment lasted no more than a few minutes out of a two-hour demonstration.
Radio-Canada chose to dedicate half of its written article; 5 out of 6 pictures; and 1 of 2 videos to this one Israeli supporter, citing that her cousins who live close to the Gaza strip are in danger every day. Not once in the article did Radio-Canada mention the hundreds of Palestinian deaths or the thousands of Gazans wounded since Israel began its assault on Gaza on July 8th nor did it interview any Palestinians who have lost family members due to Israeli attacks.
Radio-Canada chose to title the article “A Brief Incident at the Pro-Gaza Demonstration in Montreal” and provided a subheading that reads “A Gathering that could have turned out Badly”. Since when has it become news to report on what might have happened? This article serves to create a sense of fear and tension that was not present at the rally. It also misrepresents the Israeli supporter as the victim when clearly the victims are the hundreds of Palestinians who have been killed by Israeli air strikes and ground invasions.
It’s really incredible that people who denounce Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians can’t even be heard in an article dedicated to a Palestinian solidarity demonstration. It is disproportionate coverage of events when one Israeli protester’s story is told above the stories of the other 300 protesters.
This is an example of poor journalism, questionable professionalism, and undoubtedly bias coverage of events. Worst of all, it makes part of a larger problem of mainstream media’s unwillingness to present Palestinian issues in a fair and proportional manner. How can Canadians have an informed understanding of issues related to Palestine when news outlets like Radio-Canada misinform them? It’s time for the Canadian media to take its ethical responsibilities seriously and provide fair and accurate coverage of Palestine and Canada’s role in allowing Israel to continue its mistreatment of the Palestinian people.
We encourage all consumers of Canadian media to denounce articles like these in order to build a more educated Canadian population on the issue of Palestine.
Under the Olive Tree is a Montreal-based community radio program in solidarity with Palestinians aired live every Thursday from 11am – 12 noon on CKUT 90.3 FM in Montreal and on CFRC 101.9FM in Kingston, Ontario from 4pm – 5pm.