MONTREAL — Two pro-Israel groups have sent a strongly worded joint letter to Radio Canada complaining about its Middle East correspondent’s use of the term “political prisoners” to describe terrorists held in Israeli jails.
HonestReporting Canada (HRC), which says it speaks on behalf of 30,000 members, and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) wrote on May 8 to the French-language public broadcaster. It follows the ombudsman’s decision which rebuked reporter Ginette Lamarche, but validated her reference to “political prisoners.”
The groups tell Michel Cormier, Radio-Canada’s head of news and information, that it is “imperative” that reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict avoid words that “mislead, lend an ‘appearance of bias’ or give the impression of shaping the news rather than reporting it.”
“Loaded” words like “apartheid” or “political prisoners” play into the hands of those who seek to undermine Israel’s standing in the international community, they say.
“When the media fails to acknowledge its use of highly politicized sources, or indulges in politicized rhetoric, it leaves the realm of journalism and enters the world of political activism, wittingly or unwittingly,” the letter reads.
“In concluding that it is ‘reasonable’ to employ the term ‘political prisoner’ to describe prisoners who have committed or planned acts of violence for political purposes, Radio-Canada has crossed this line.”
They had complained to ombudsman Pierre Tourangeau about four instances since last autumn when Lamarche used the term.
“Nowhere in the Israeli penal code are opinions or political activities listed as crimes, and no one in Israel is deprived of liberty for these reasons,” they pointed out.
In defending Lamarche’s language, Radio-Canada largely relied on the definition of political prisoners used by “politically driven, anti-Israel organizations such as Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East,” they contend, rather than on the customary legal understanding.
“Radio-Canada also cited Israel’s use of administrative detention as evidence of Israel’s detention of ‘political prisoners’. Yet, as we pointed out to Radio-Canada, Israel practises administrative detention –like Britain and the United States, for example – pursuant to articles 78 and 64 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949,” said HRC Quebec director Michelle Whiteman.
“Radio-Canada thus absurdly argues that the instrument of humanitarian law which permits the practice of administrative detention is evidence of its violation. This is nonsensical.”
The ombudsman did rap Lamarche for neglecting to mention the nature of the crime committed by one prisoner, Abou Namiyeh, when reporting on the length of his sentence. It was the 10th rebuke the ombudsman has issued against her concerning her Middle East coverage, most of them following complaints by HRC or CIJA.
“If our publicly funded broadcaster would like to accuse Israel of harbouring political prisoners and ally itself with a political agenda, it should furnish evidence of this. It has not discharged its obligation. The continued use of the term, therefore, casts a long shadow of bias on Radio-Canada,” the letter concludes.
The groups had not received a response to their letter at The CJN’s deadline.