Open letter to CBC calls for fairness, impartiality and integrity on Palestine

As with much of the mainstream media, CBC has come under increasing fire in the past few years for bias against Palestine. Peace and solidarity activists have long complained about the lack of reporting on Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine, poor coverage of the Palestinian people’s suffering and legitimate struggle, and the shameful media efforts to “morally equate” Israel’s brutality with the Palestinians’ resistance.

In recent months, a group of Palestine solidarity activists called “CBC Palestine” has been organizing to draw attention to impartiality towards Palestine at Canada’s English-language public broadcaster. 

In late July, the group initiated an open letter to CBC Chair Michael Goldbloom and President Catherine Tait, calling for fairness and an end to censorship against reporting that is sympathetic to Palestine. The letter has so far been signed by more than 60 organizations.

The text of the letter follows:

Dear Mr. Goldbloom and Ms. Tait,

As civil society organizations, we recognize the important role CBC plays within Canadian society as our public broadcaster.

However, today we are writing to you deeply concerned with CBC’s coverage of Palestine-Israel.

Over the last month, CBC Palestine – a collective of independent organizers, and one of the signatories to this letter – expressed our dissatisfaction with this coverage through grassroots demonstrations at the CBC buildings in Toronto and in Ottawa. Protesters called on the CBC to meet basic journalistic principles of fairness, accuracy, balance, impartiality, and integrity when reporting on Palestine-Israel.

There are a few editorial issues that are particularly troubling for us we must raise with you. 

First, we were incensed to find out about CBC’s policy of censoring the word “Palestine,” and were shocked when anchor Duncan McCue was forced to apologize on air for using the word. 

While the CBC language style guide discourages the term “Palestine”, this position is not based in international law, and is contradicted by CBC policy regarding other conflicts. 

It is well known that the State of Palestine has non-member observer status with the United Nations and is recognized by 138 countries. Moreover, entities such as Taiwan and Somaliland are mentioned in many CBC articles, despite the Canadian government’s position that it does not formally recognize either as sovereign states.

Second, we were disappointed that CBC still refuses to cover the recent Human Rights Watch report stating that Israel is committing crimes against humanity of persecution and apartheid. This was a landmark report by one of the most prominent mainstream, international human rights organizations. The report was covered in other international and Canadian press, yet entirely ignored by the CBC.

Third, we are disturbed by the many ways that CBC has been exercising control over journalists’ ability to report and speak about these issues. For example, CBC retaliated against journalists who signed an open letter to Canadian newsrooms calling for better reporting on Palestine-Israel, removing them from coverage of the Middle East. 

As well, CBC has been discouraging journalists from using the word “Palestine” even in casual conversation, and has put all CBC coverage under strict editorial control, creating a centralized “staff advisory panel” to vet all content and overrule the discretion of its own journalists. These policies restrict the ability of journalists to properly cover the issues and are likely to result in a watering down of reporting.

Let us be clear: we are not asking CBC to take sides on Palestine-Israel. We simply ask that you report the reality on the ground, stop ceding to pressure from lobby groups which seek to censor content sympathetic to Palestinians, and stand up for your own journalists and their expertise.

We believe that fair and balanced coverage will require the inclusion of Palestinian voices in editorial teams, and relying on reporters with knowledge of the region. Canadians need to hear this nuance and context.

As signatories to this letter, and as the protesters highlighted, our demands are as follows: 

Update your language style guides to reflect international human rights law;

Allow the use of the word “Palestine” in broadcasts and digital media, including by CBC journalists;

Cover the 2021 Human Rights Watch report on Israel’s crimes of apartheid, as well as similar reports by Israeli rights groups B’Tselem and Yesh Din;

End pro-Israel bias and the dehumanization of the Palestinian people by including their voices and perspectives in your coverage.  

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