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
The Globe and Mail -
September 18, 2004
By JAMES ADAMS
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
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
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
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
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."