“I referred to the Palestinian territories as ‘Palestine,’ we apologize.”
This surreal on-air apology was broadcast last week on the CBC’s The Current, after guest host Duncan McCue referenced Palestine during an interview with cartoonist, journalist and war correspondent Joe Sacco on “the themes of colonialism and resource extraction.”
The pro-Israel lobby group Honest Reporting Canada (HRC)—an “independent grass-roots organization promoting fairness and accuracy in Canadian media coverage of Israel and the Middle East,” according to its website—quickly spun into action to ‘inform’ the national broadcaster that, in fact, the use of the word Palestine goes against the CBC’s own language policies.
In a recent post published by HRC, the organization gloated about how it keeps news agencies in check regarding the ‘non-existence’ of the state of Palestine. In the same post, the HRC cites “CBC’s own language policies” by linking to a 2019 article in which the following addendum was inserted:
CBC language policy states there is no modern country of Palestine, although there’s a movement to establish one as part of a two-state peace agreement with Israel. Areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority are considered Palestinian territories: Fatah-run West Bank and Hamas-run Gaza Strip.
As pointed out yesterday by David Kattenburg, writing in Mondoweiss, CBC/Radio-Canada’s own Ombudsman, Jack Nagler, “considers the network’s reportorial ‘glossary’ to be out of date.” What’s more, the Canadian Press Stylebook has “no specific guidance on the use of the name Palestine in regards to a territory or state.”
This is not the first time, of course, that activists have had to deal with the broadcaster’s deference to authoritarian media policing groups like HRC, particularly with respect to Palestine.
Two years ago, the Canada Palestine Association launched a formal complaint with CBC management that went all the way to the ombudsman’s office. It again involved changes to specific language that the CBC had made in its reporting on Palestine after concerns were raised by HRC, that time during the beginning of the Great March of Return.
After a long drawn out process lasting more than five months, the dispute ended with the same result: the CBC changed its reporting to “bring wording into line” with the broadcaster’s own language guide. Once again, HRC bragged on its website that it had forced the CBC to “implement their suggestions.”
We must hold our national, taxpayer-funded broadcaster accountable for these editorial decisions. The Zionist lobby is simply doing what it has set out to do—promote and defend Israel by any means necessary. One needn’t look further than the HRC’s own website: “As an organization dedicated to defending Israel against prejudice in the media, we aim to provide educational tools and resources to anyone wishing to advocate for Israel.”
On the other hand, the CBC is not doing what it is mandated and entrusted to do. Its “Journalistic Standards and Practices” document commits to accuracy, balance, objectivity and impartiality, and its governance policies are peppered with lofty-sounding promises to “reflect differing views [and] a broad range of opinion […] fully and fairly […] in a balanced manner.” It is clear, however, that these principles do not extend to the CBC’s treatment of Palestine.
The mind boggles at how a reporter would have to handle a story talking about or with Palestinians under occupation, in exile and in the Galilee. Nevermind that 138 countries recognize Palestine as a state, as does the United Nations and multiple UN organizations.
Yet, the CBC is following the same pattern as successive Canadian governments. The same reasoning used to uphold the HRC’s recent complains was also used by the Trudeau government in discouraging the International Criminal Court from pursuing charges against Israel for committing war crimes in Gaza.
Canada and its institutions are not representing the majority opinion of Canadians and are also completely out of step with the bulk of the international community. It is no small wonder that Canada lost its recent bid for a UN Security Council seat.
No organization—not the CBC, nor the Canadian government, nor the State of Israel—can deny the existence of Palestine and its people. These churlish and supremacist attempts at erasing Palestinian identity will not succeed and will only serve to increase the resolve of the Palestinians and their supporters to fight for justice.
Marion Kawas has written extensively on the Palestinian struggle, and is a regular contributor to Palestine Chronicle and other websites. She is also active in Palestine solidarity campaigns and is a member of Canada Palestine Association and BDS Vancouver-Coast Salish Territories.