A December 22, 2011 radio report entitled “The Year 2011 in the Middle East”, saw Radio-Canada’s Ginette Lamarche introduce the subject of a Palestinian Arab Spring by stating: “Since the Naqba… this is the creation of the State of Israel in 1948”. The term Naqba is a Palestinian term meaning “catastrophe” and refers to the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. However, Ms. Lamarche did not attribute this term to the Palestinian narrative of Israel’s creation, leaving the listener to assume the creation of Israel was indeed a catastrophe, at least from Radio-Canada’s point of view. HonestReporting Canada asked for a clarification in light of this unattributed statement and Radio-Canada laudably admitted and corrected this error prior to revision by the Ombudsman.
Finally, HRC objected to two other reports, one of which aired on the Désautels radio show on December 23, on the situation of Christians in Bethlehem. Lamarche stated that “since the construction of the wall (separation) in 2003, residents of Bethlehem cannot leave Bethlehem without permission.” She also stated that “the wall, settlements (Jewish settlement) that encircle Bethlehem prevent it from developing and pushes Palestinian Christians to flee the city where Jesus was born.”Lamarche also reported as fact that proceeds from tourism in Bethlehem were “slim for Palestinians of Bethlehem even if the number of tourists has increased”. In addition to challenging the claims made in these statements, HRC objected to the lack of context in the report, specifically, to the terrorist attacks from the West Bank which took the lives of more than 1,100 Israelis and prompted construction of a security fence. HRC objected to the omission of other factors causing Christians to leave Bethlehem, such as Muslim persecution of Christians. Finally, HRC objected to this reporter’s assertion that Bethlehem’s proceeds from tourism “are slim due to Israel control(ling) tourism”. The Ombudsman agreed that it was inaccurate to state that authorization is required to leave Bethlehem, or to state it is cut off from the rest of the West Bank. The Ombudsman stated that comments regarding tourism should have been attributed to the interviewer and not stated as fact.
The Ombudsman concluded his review by recognizing the challenges inherent in field reporting, but stated that the five reports nevertheless failed to meet one or other of the standards ??of accuracy, balance, and impartiality called for by Radio-Canada’s Journalistic Standards and Practices. He criticized these reports for not containing a “diversity of opinion” as required when controversial views, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, are addressed. He stated that the reports only offered a Palestinian viewpoint, that the reporter did not verify claims nor did she challenge claims or data submitted to her. Rather, on a few occasions, she reported claims as fact. For these reasons, the Ombudsman concluded these reports led to “at least an appearance of bias”. He also remarked that with little effort, the reports could have been more consistent with Radio-Canada’s guidelines, by making the text more accurate, attributing statements, employing contrary views or having the journalist challenge statements. Finally, the Ombudsman expressed the hope that, given the scope of his review, the management at Radio-Canada and its journalist will engage in substantive discussions regarding its arguments and methodology.
This is not the first time Lamarche has been reprimanded by the Ombudsman. Lamarche has previously come under fire by other organizations such as CIJA which only a few months ago saw Radio-Canada’s Ombudsman rule that several of her reports on the Middle East lacked accuracy and impartiality.
We are appreciative of Ombudsman Tourganeau’s rulings and concur with his recommendations. We are hopeful that this decision will encourage our public broadcaster to engage in a serious examination of how it conducts its reporting on Israel and the Middle East.