Ombudsman raps Radio-Canada’s Israeli-Palestinian coverage

MONTREAL — Radio-Canada’s ombudsman says the network should improve its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian coverage after his office received 75 complaints, almost all from those who felt the reporting was inaccurate or biased against Israel.

In his annual 2012-2013 report, Pierre Tourangeau says the complaints, which concerned the television, radio and online services, were not trivial and, in fact, were well substantiated. He recommended that corrections or clarifications be made in response to 12 of them.

He recommends that the French-language public broadcaster examine its attitude to this longstanding and “thorny” issue.

“There were, this year again, very real problems in the coverage of the Israeli-Arab disagreement with regards to the Palestinian question,” he states.

Tourangeau cites a similar volume of complaints during 2011-2012, rising after the violence in November of that year between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

While improvements have been made since his previous report, Tourangeau advises, “It is necessary to do more, and maybe even change the attitude with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict…

“I have already invited the news department to reflect in this way. I reiterate this invitation, knowing that this is a continuous process.”

He applauds the decision to move the base of Radio-Canada’s Middle East correspondent from Tel Aviv to Beirut.

Tourangeau was news director before assuming his current post two years ago.

A third of the complaints came from four organizations: the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), HonestReporting Canada (HRC), le Regroupement québécois pour un journalisme informé, honnête et responsable, and Amitiés Québec-Israël.

He described them as a “well-organized lobby and as determined as they are effective.”

That may explain the high number of complaints, but does not detract from their merit, he indicates.

“Is it because Radio-Canada’s coverage is the object of attention, [and] I would say even particular surveillance, by organizations that defend the interests and the points of view of Israel and the Jewish community? That’s certainly an important factor, since I have not noticed the existence of equivalent organizations from the Palestinian side,” he states.

Tourangeau notes that no other subject covered by Radio-Canada attracts the intervention of organizations “entirely dedicated to the monitoring of the media, such as HRC, or that devote a good part of their energy and resources, like CIJA” and the other two groups.

His office’s recommendation that revisions be made in 16 per cent of these complaints is a far higher rate than that of other major areas of complaint.

Of the 328 complaints received about the coverage of last year’s student protest in Quebec, for example, the ombudsman recommended only nine revisions, or 2.7 per cent. Of the 187 complaints about coverage of the Quebec election, the ombudsman recommended three revisions.

CIJA commended the report.

“In the past six years, CIJA [has] filed dozens of complaints about egregious instances of factual errors and bias that regularly undermine the public broadcaster’s coverage of Israel and the Palestinians, the overwhelming majority of which were upheld by the ombudsman,” said CIJA Quebec vice-president Luciano Del Negro.

CIJA met with senior Radio-Canada managers to raise its concerns in particular about its last Middle East correspondent, Ginette Lamarche, who was found at fault on 10 different occasions by the ombudsman, he said.

“The media play a very important role in keeping the public informed on this very complicated matter,” Del Negro said, “therefore, we strongly encourage Radio-Canada to follow the ombudsman’s advice and apply rigorously its journalistic standards to ensure fair and balanced reporting on Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict.”