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Some responses to news release: NCCAR and CAF Call on Ontario Press Council to Investigate Biased Reporting Against Muslims and Arabs

  • Report biased, Arabs argue CanWest inserts word `terrorist' Groups asking for an inquiry
    The Toronto Star - September 18, 2004

Leading Arab-Canadian groups are calling on the Ontario Press Council to investigate what they term "biased reporting against Muslims and Arabs in CanWest publications," including the National Post.

The National Council on Canada-Arab Relations and the Canadian Arab Federation made their demands yesterday after CBC Radio reported that CanWest publications, including the Post and the Ottawa Citizen, inserted the word "terrorist" into a Middle East story reported by wire service agency Reuters, and substituted the word "terrorist" for such words as "militant" and "insurgent" in an Associated Press story.

"This is another troubling example of clear bias by CanWest publications like the National Post and the Ottawa Citizen in applying different standards towards Arabs and Muslims when reporting," said the council's executive director, Mazen Chouaib.

Federation president Omar Alghabra echoed the concern.

"CanWest, one of the largest media conglomerates in Canada, is failing its responsibility towards all Canadians, not just Arabs and Muslims," he said. "The media has moral and ethical obligations to report the facts when it comes to news reporting, not the opinions of their editors."

Reuters has already asked CanWest, owners of the National Post, to attribute the changes it makes to the agency's copy.

"We're a wire service, so people edit our copy all the time for length, for space, that sort of thing," said Stephen Naru, a Reuters spokesman in New York City. "But when you change the meaning of the story and we feel that changes the meaning of the story, because terrorist is an emotive term that we don't use in the way that they used it what we would suggest is that they just take the name of our reporter off, and say that the story is based on Reuters and CanWest dispatches."

Calls to CanWest and the National Post were not returned.
  • CanWest editing questioned: Reuters wants reporters' names removed when the word 'terrorist' added to stories
    The Globe and Mail - September 18, 2004

Newspapers in the CanWest Global chain that want to add the word "terrorist" or make other substantial changes to stories supplied by Reuters news agency should remove the name of the Reuters reporters before publication, officials with the news agency said yesterday.

David Schlesinger, Reuters global managing editor, and Stephen Naru, the agency's global head of media relations, said they'll recommend the move to Canada's largest newspaper chain after a CBC Radio report yesterday said that its papers, including the National Post and the Ottawa Citizen, had been inserting words and changing phrases in wire stories dealing with the war in Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Speaking from Reuters offices in Manhattan yesterday, Mr. Schlesinger said his agency is "used to having our stuff rewritten . . . edited for space, and used in other ways" beyond what its writers have submitted. "All that is fine and natural, but if someone is going to make a substantive change, then they shouldn't say it's by one of our reporters." In such an eventuality, the writer's byline and Reuters tag should be stripped from the top of the report, he said, and a descriptive "with files from Reuters" placed at the bottom.

Mr. Naru said Reuters strives for "the absence of emotion in [its] vocabulary, so that events may be judged dispassionately."

The CBC, which has had especially fractious relations with CanWest Global in the past three years, reported on the issue after anonymous sources pointed out that a story in the Sept. 14 National Post had been changed from what Reuters originally submitted.

The Post article, filed from Jerusalem and carrying the byline "Jeffrey Heller, Reuters, with files from Agence France-Presse," described the al-Aqsa Martyr Brigades of the West Bank as "a terrorist group that has been involved in a four-year-old campaign of violence against Israel." The Reuters original story referred to "the al-Aqsa Martyr Brigades, which has been involved in a four-year revolt against Israeli occupation in Gaza and the West Bank."

Scott Anderson, editor-in-chief of the Ottawa Citizen, said yesterday that such changes were consistent with an internal style guide that CanWest Global newspapers and TV stations adopted in the spring of this year "to define the language we use as news organizations when covering terrorism and terror-related violence." Mr. Anderson, who helped draw up the guide, noted that the Citizen does not subscribe to Reuters.

He acknowledged there is no consensus among journalists and journalistic organizations on how to use such terminology "without appearing to take sides."

But, citing the guide, Mr. Anderson said CanWest believes it is possible and necessary to use words such as "terrorist" and "terrorism" in a commonsense way that ensures balance, technical accuracy and political neutrality.

The guide suggests CanWest editors and journalists should first consult the Canadian government's official list of terrorist organizations before using a word such as "terrorist." However, they should not be entirely beholden to the list as "violent sub-national groups appear and re-appear all the time with new names."

The CanWest position raised the ire yesterday of the Canadian Arab Federation and the National Council on Canada-Arab Relations, as they called for an investigation of what they deemed CanWest's "troubling practice of biased reporting."

In a joint statement, they said CanWest is pursuing "a perceived anti-Arab agenda" and "applying different standards towards Arabs and Muslims when reporting." Colombia's FARC guerrilla movement, they noted, is on Ottawa's terrorism list but CanWest's newspapers do not describe it as such. News organizations such as Canadian Press and Reuters have tended to shy away from using "terrorist" and related terms. While they don't ban their use, they usually follow the advice contained in guides such as the Canadian Press style book.

It says, "The best advice is to be specific in the choice of terms used, and to guard against automatically labelling one side the terrorists, which makes the other side automatically the good guys. There are always more neutral words available" such as "bombers, gunmen and killers" or, as other agencies suggest, terms such as "suicide bomber," "assassin," "militant" and "insurgent."

CanWest's style guide argues that the last two in particular "are euphemisms . . . that betray a bias, insofar as they obfuscate and sanitize what Hamas, al-Qaeda and other groups are all about."

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