Last summer’s fiasco at Canada’s national broadcaster, when the CBC censured the word “Palestine,” has brought continued focus to the debate over bias in North American media. According to the Ombudsman’s website, he is still working on cases from July, 2020. When a decision is made, the results will be made public.
Some brief background: On August 18, 2020 Duncan McCue, the host of the CBC show “The Current,” used the word “Palestine” in an interview with cartoonist and journalist Joe Sacco. Later that day the word was cut from the online transcript of the show and the following day on August 19 McCue issued an onair apology for using “Palestine” instead of “Palestinian territories.” The journalist had originally said “In so much of your work, context is key — whether it’s Palestine, or whether it’s Bosnia. In this book when you’re asking the Dene about their history…” In the revised transcript the CBC published deleted the clause about Palestine, posting: “In so much of your work, context is key. In this book when you’re asking the Dene about their history…” In his apology, McCue told listeners, “Yesterday, in my interview with Joe Sacco, I referred to the Palestinian territories as Palestine. We apologize.”
Shortly after Sacco commented,
“It’s ironic that the CBC would apologize for the use of the word ‘Palestine’ for a segment about my book, whose subject is at least partly the attempted obliteration of the cultural identity of indigenous people of the Northwest Territories, particularly through the notorious residential school system. Imagine today if the First Nations people I talked to, the Dene, would be made to apologize for using their word ‘Denendeh’,’ which means ‘The Land of the People,’ for describing where they live. To whom, exactly, was the CBC apologizing for using the word ‘Palestine’?”
In the subsequent uproar from listeners about this action, it was revealed that CBC’s language guide actually embeds this kind of anti-Palestinian discourse. In a response to complaints about the edit, Paul Hambleton, the CBC’s director of journalistic standards said in an email that was published by Jewish Voice for Peace: “We certainly quote people who talk about Palestine, we do interviews about books with Palestine in the title and so forth. The word is not ‘banned.’”
Yet, of course in practice the word was banned.
Hambleton continued to outline the guide’s entry on the matter,
“Palestine vs. Palestinian territories — There is no modern country of Palestine, although there’s a movement to establish one as part of a two-state peace agreement with Israel. So do not refer to Palestine or show a map with Palestine as a country. Use the term “pro-Palestinian” instead of “pro-Palestine” when referring in generic ways to Palestinian supporters. Areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority are considered Palestinian territories: Fatah-run West Bank and Hamas-run Gaza Strip…But the UN does not grant nationhood, and it remains premature to call Palestinian territories the country of Palestine. When making references to historical Palestine, use clear language (e.g., “British Palestine” is the accepted term for the British Mandate of Palestine, which administered the region between 1920 and the birth of Israel in 1948).”
Multiple inaccuracies in this policy were highlighted in Canada Palestine Association’s request to the Ombudsman Office for a review, from the colonialist nature of the term “British Palestine” to petty refusal to even allow pro-Palestine as a generic term. But another point that needs addressing: what is this “Fatah-run West Bank and Hamas-run Gaza”? Does CBC talk about Likud-run Israel? Or Saud Royal Family-run Saudi Arabia? And this particular phrase also stands out: “But the UN does not grant nationhood.”
But hold on a minute, didn’t the UN already do precisely that in 1947 with Israel, by passing the Partition Plan and Resolution 181?? This level of arrogance and condescension, coupled with a conscious refusal to portray the Palestinians as a national unit and entity, runs deep.
This approach is also prevalent in the Canadian government’s stated policy, which CBC refers to as backup for its flawed language guide. At first blush, Canada’s official position might appear somewhat fair-minded, although of course always favouring Israel’s security as the first criteria to consider. But a closer look reveals that, with the exception of using proper names like Palestine Liberation Organization and Palestine National Council, there is also no use of the word Palestine.
Any logical mention of the state of Palestine or just Palestine is replaced by the more ambiguous “Palestinian.”
Four months later, the Joe Sacco case is still under review at the CBC’s Ombudsman office; but the results of his investigation are by no means guaranteed to overturn their archaic policies, either in respecting universal human rights or even common journalistic practice. We hope this will not be a case of the mountain labored and brought forth a mouse, as happened with a previous complaint filed about bias in coverage at CBC.
Words are important weapons in the hands of Israel and its international supporters, and Zionist ideologues have worked for decades to sanitize language to better favor their goals and objectives. This is why they refuse to speak of Palestinians in Israel, instead they must be called Arab Israelis (another policy favored by CBC although they seem confused if it should be “Arab Israelis” or “Israeli Arabs,” even in the same article).
Similarly, discourse matters when they report on agreements between “Israel and the Palestinians,” not “Israel and Palestine”or “Israelis and Palestinians.”
There are consequences to the public’s understanding when phrases and words are edited in or out, such was the case for decades under the former Canadian media conglomerate CanWest, which owned nearly 150 newspapers across the country. Davide Mastracci explained in the Passage, CanWest consistently changed Reuters reporting to refer to Palestinians killed by Israeli forces as “terrorists.” Mastracci wrote, “the chain’s bias became so blatant that Reuters asked CanWest to remove the names of their reporters from wire stories before using them, or not include any connection with Reuters at all.”
The CBC’s mishandling of this issue had the unintended result of shining a spotlight on this decades-old erasure of Palestinian national identity in both the Canadian media and government. Be it interference in university hiring, or appointing notorious pro-Israel advocates to police free speech, or the CBC’s language guide, it seems the attempt to eviscerate all things “Palestine” is moving forward.
Denying the existence and culture of indigenous peoples, and denying the humanity of the colonized, are all shared traits in the supremacist mentality of settler colonialists. But such fabrications, negation of Palestinian identity and racist pronouncements will not halt the Palestinian march towards equality, liberation and return.
Source: the news first appeared in Mondoweiss, along with the cover photo.