CBC ombudsman: Is it opinion or analysis?

By Esther Enkin, CBC Ombudsman

By Esther Enkin, CBC Ombudsman

The complainant, Mike Fegelman, on behalf of Honest Reporting, thought that Neil Macdonald had “whitewashed” the degree to which textbooks used in Palestinian schools demonize Israel. He was particularly concerned that Macdonald had referenced an academic study comparing Israeli and Palestinian school books because the Israeli Ministry of Education had condemned it. The reference appeared in a column about what the writer considered the dismal chances of a U.S. brokered final peace agreement by the end of April. Fegelman also questioned the basis of that conclusion, calling it opinion, not analysis. I did not consider that there had been any violation of policy.

COMPLAINT

Your complaint was not sent to the CBC, but was posted on your Honest Reporting web site. You then asked CBC management to respond to it. Your posting was entitled “CBC Whitewashes Incitement.” You took issue with a reference in an analysis piece by Neil Macdonald on the prospects of United States Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiative. In the course of the article Mr. Macdonald refers to a study done on the textbooks in Palestinian and Israeli schools. The purpose of the study was to assess the portrayal of the “other” in teaching children.

The Honest Reporting post says that the study has been “thoroughly debunked and discredited.” It also rejects the study for its “moral equivalence.” You feel that Mr. Macdonald should have mentioned that this study was “discredited.” In subsequent correspondence, you state that it is opinion, not analysis, to make the case that a peace deal will be difficult to achieve because of the reluctance of both sides to agree to one. You point out that there are others who believe that John Kerry’s efforts are “promising” and that “Israel genuinely wants a peace deal.”


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MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

The Managing Editor for CBC News digital, Brodie Fenlon, responded to your blog post. He pointed out that the piece was actually a look at the long term prospects for John Kerry to achieve a final and durable peace agreement: “He sets out a number of reasons he thinks the current efforts will fail.” One of the reasons mentioned is Israel’s position that the Palestinians continue to negate Israel’s existence. Mr. Fenlon explained that the article mentions that the “inculcation of hatred” is a long standing issue for both sides but that there has been little “scientific evaluation.” The text book study was one such effort. He agreed that the Israeli government rejected the study and that some of the advisory panel were critical but that the study was supervised by Israelis and Palestinians, and that 14 of the 19 members of the advisory panel issued a statement confirming their support for the study. He pointed out that the study originated at Yale University and was partly funded by the U.S. government and was credible, even if there was some dissent: “Clearly, the report will not end the decades-old controversy over the issue. Not everyone will agree with its methodology or conclusions, but that does not disqualify it from being cited in Macdonald’s piece.”

REVIEW

The study in question is entitled “Victims of our Own Narratives?, Portrayal of the ‘Other’ in Israeli and Palestinian School Books.” It goes on to state that it was “initiated” by the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land and funded by a U.S. government grant. The Council of Religious Institutions includes the chief rabbinate of Israel, the heads of local churches in the holy land, and the Ministry of Islamic Waqf at the Palestinian Authority. On its website, it references the study, explains how it was constituted and provides a link to it. It does distance itself somewhat by stating:

The study developed in such a way that it thematically went beyond what the Council had asked for. Accordingly, it was found best to be published in the name of the scholars who did it. The research was published and presented to the public on 4th February 2013.

To continue reading this column, please visit ombudsman.cbc.radio-canada.ca, where it was originally published.

Correction: An earlier version of this review ran a photo that was not of Esther Enkin. 


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