Arab Canadian Association of the Atlantic ProvincesP0. Box 1024, Halifax, Nova Scotia, B3J 2X1
Brief Submitted to "Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission,at the Halifax Hearings 12-13, February 1979
The premise in this presentation, on behalf of the Arab Canadian Association of the Atlantic provinces, is two-fold:
a. It is the responsibility of the CBC and other broadcasting media, in their news and current affairs programs to provide the Canadian public with balanced even-handed unbiased informative reporting. This would allow Canadians to make their own judgements intelligently. It is also the responsibility of the broadcasting media to provide a fair access to all ethnic communities in Canada.
b. The broadcasting media continues to show distinct and consistent imbalance and bias against the Arabs. This bias is blatantly obvious in the news coverage and current affairs programs dealing with the Middle East (ME.) and Arab-Israeli conflict. This bias inevitably reflects on and extends to the Arab Canadian community in their day to day life.
To relate and substantiate our second premise in totality would require a massive catalogue that would certainly not be possible here. I would, hence, limit myself to quoting a few details as mere examples. I would deal with each broadcasting facility separately, though, many examples detailed under CBC apply equally, if not more, to the A.T.V.
CANADIAN BROADCASTING CORPORATION (C .B.C.)
1. NEWS REPORTS
a. In the process of making what is supposedly factual reporting of the news, there is a tendency, through inadequate or partial reporting, omission and distortion, to heighten the emotional impact and to gain sympathy for Israelis. When the Palestinians throw a hand grenade or cause an expl6sion in Israel, it is frequently headline news and is described as a terrorist attack and a savage or cowardly act with details of killing of children etc. On the other hand, when bombing raid by Israeli Armed Forces, in highly sophisticated war machines, are committed, against the miserable shacks of Palestinian refugee camps or defenseless Lebanese villages in South Lebanon, killing tens or hundreds of men, women and children, these are usually described as "retaliatory" attacks and little else. Let me give two examples:
In the morning of December 2, 1975, thirty Israeli bombers rocketed Palestinian refugee camps in South Lebanon, leaving over a 100 dead and 200 injured, mostly women and children. This made headline news throughout the world, and was condemned by the U.N. Secretary General, that same day. Yet at 11 p.m. (Atlantic time), we heard on CBC, TV News program, 11The National", the report of this massive onslaught in these exact words, and very low down on the news:
"Seventy-seven people were killed today in border fights between Israel and Lebanon ". That was it. Here is a glaring example of appalling and deliberate distortion. There was no way of knowing who were those killed and who killed them and how. It is a true example of dehumanising Palestinian men, women and children. I wrote complaining (letters dated 3rd and 31st of December, 1975) to CBC and received what I believe was an inadequate explanation (12 December, 1975). Copies of correspondence are enclosed.
On the 22 January, 1979, a large explosion in Beirut, evidently laid by the Israelis and indirectly involving a Canadian citizen, killed a P.L.O. leader (who we were told masterminded the Munich massacre) and eleven passers-by. The word "terrorist" was never mentioned. Yet six days later (28 January 1979), an explosion in Nathanya, Israel, killed two Israelis and was described as a "terrorist" attack.
b. The tragic civil war in Lebanon continues to be depicted in our media as a war between Christians and Muslims. Any reasonably-informed reporter knows that the conflict in Lebanon is a political as well as a socio-economic conflict and not a religious war. Members of all religious denominations are seen on both sides of this conflict. Many members of our community of all religious groups find this depiction of this strife in a religious context as offensive besides being misleading to other Canadians.
2. DOCUMENTARY FILMS OR REPORTS
These, too, consistently favour the Zionist point of view. A recent example "A Chronicle of Palestine" broadcast on the CBC Radio Program "Sunday Morning" on 21 and 28 May 1978. A copy of a letter of my protest is enclosed.
One of the main interviewers on the CBC Radio Program "As It Happens" (Barbara Frum) who is an intelligent and able performer, in every other area, shows, I believe, a consistent and unmistakable bias in favour of Israel. A contributor offering a point of view critical of Israel is frequently intimidated and belligerently handled while an Israeli official or sympathiser is handled with kid gloves and gentleness. I have scores of examples to give but one I should like to note is this:
In November 1977, the Syrian Ambassador to the U.N. was interviewed by Mrs. Frum and was almost literally abused and shouted down. I acknowledge that interviewers have their own views and sympathies but I believe that in the interest of fair and balanced reporting, these personal sympathies should be set aside.
There is a distinct preponderance of interviewees and journalists with known pro-Zionist sympathies. One example is Mr. Jon Kimche. On January 22, 1976, Mr. Kimche was interviewed by Mrs. Frum and related an extraordinary fabrication, needless to say without the flimsiest evidence, alleging that the Presidents of Algeria, Libya and Iraq met secretly in Europe and planned the kidnapping and highjacking of the OPEC oil ministers, including their own. I wrote with amazement (January 25, 1976, copy enclosed) to the CBC President, Mr. A.W. Johnson, expressing alarm' that the CBC should allow the circulation of such libelous and offensive tales about the presidents of three nations with which Canada should have no interest in making enemies, by circulating baseless tendentious reports. The usual inconsequential denial was received (copy enclosed).
There is a preponderance of reports from correspondents who are Israeli or of known pro-Israeli sympathies, without identifying to the public this known sympathy.
6. IMPROPER SELECTION OF NEWS ITEMS
Specific news items that are derogatory to Arabs are used. For example:
On April 17, 1978 a story by Mr. Paul Hoffman, titled "White Slavery" was aired on "As It Happens". The story was offensive to Arabs and was a well-worn irrelevant tale. That same week it was disclosed, by the American Congressman, Mr. MacClosky, that the Israelis used the internationally banned "cluster" bombs against defenseless civilians in their invasion of South Lebanon and in violation of undertakings made to the U.S. Government. Despite phone calls, and written protests, to the producer of "As It Happens", this latter item of news was not deemed appropriate for Canadian ears.
And as if to convince the unconvinced and to vindicate my contention that the CBC, in the person of Mrs. Frum, shows an unrelenting anti-Arab bias, todayís (February 9, 1979) "As It Happens" program shows another blatant example of derogatory offensive journalism. The topic is the planned 3-week official visit (February 13) of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to Arab countries including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirate. The introduction to the item proceeds to denigrate all Arab traditions and customs by sneeringly speaking of "the honour of eating the eye of a sheep". Mrs. Frum then interviews Lady Olga Maitland, the gossip columnist (as the introducer described her) of the London Daily Express and her first question is: "Has the queen been invited by these ciphers, or is she going a-wooing on her own?" The Oxford Dictionary defines "ciphers" as "worthless or unimportant persons". The Webster Dictionary defines a "cipher" as one that has no weight, worth or influence - a nonentity". These are the Kings and Heads of States of nations honouring Her Majesty and friendly to our country, and holding the key, through their oil export, to Western nations prosperity that Mrs. Frum describes, as worthless or ciphers. Mrs. Frumís tone throughout the interview is disparging to Arabs and Arab rulers and offensive not only to Arab Canadians, but all self-respecting Canadians. This offensive form of journalism should not be what Canadians pay their tax dollars for and it is not in the interest of our country, regardless of Mrs. Frum's personal prejudices and political prejudices, to promote insults to nations and peoples with whom Canadians have no enmity. It is we believe the responsibility of the CRTC to put a stop to this cheap form of journalism.
During the months of April and May 1978, a commercial advertisement was shown, by CBC and ATV, supposedly to promote energy conservation. This clearly racist advertisement depicted an Arab, in traditional Arab dress as sly, evil and money-grabbing, casting defamatory connotations at the Arab character. What was even more reprehensible was that this commercial was sponsored by the Nova Scotia Government of the day. However, when representations were made to the Minister in charge of the Energy Council of Nova Scotia, the commercial was quickly withdrawn.
Unhappily, our TV media regularly, in many movies, continue to show an offensive stereotype of the Arab. The Arab-Canadian community rejects this practice as offensive and insulting and requests the CRTC to put an end to this. Need one ask, would any other ethnic community in our country tolerate such racial slurs?
ATLANTIC TELEVISION SYSTEM (A.T.V.)
The News Reports and Current Affairs Programs of ATV show an identical, and even less subtle, unevenness and bias as detailed above. There are many examples, but I will content myself with two examples of personal experience.
1. On March 16, 1978, the Director of the Palestinian Section in the Arab Information Center was invited to lecture at Student's Union, Dalhousie University. The media were informed and appointments for interviews with CBC Radio and TV, A.T.V. as well as the Chronicle Herald, were made. All this went according to schedule.except for the A.T.V. who, on the day of the interview, cancelled the scheduled appearance. The excuse given was: "It was not possible to find another person to give the opposite point of view". It is worth noting that only a little more than one week earlier, an Israeli visitor was interviewed on the same program and the question of finding a person to give the opposite point of view was not raised then.
2. On September 27, 1978, a debate on the Camp David Agreements was sponsored and arranged by the Department of International Education at St. Mary's University in Halifax between an Israeli spokesman, Mr. Simmonds, and a local Canadian Palestinian, myself, representing the two contending points of view. The Department of International Education communicated this information to all media in Halifax.
Both were interviewed by CBC Radio and The Chronicle Herald, but A.T.V. saw fit to interview Mr. Simmonds only. Not only was the other point of view not sought after, this time, but was positively excluded.
DARTMOUTH CABLE TELEVISION
An interview with the President, Dr. Mounib, and the Secretary of this Association (A.C.A.A.P.) was scheduled, with the Program Director, for January 3, 1979 to make a public announcement related to the Association's Annual General Meeting and discuss and air the objectives and activities, including a school program, of the Association to the local community. When the time came for the interview, the program director, obviously shaken and concerned, apologised to the Association's Secretary, Dr. Qirbi, for having to cancel the interview. He related having received threats, on the telephone, from members of the Zionist Organization in Halifax, for having shown earlier a film about the Palestinians and their habitat which was critical of the practices of the State of Israel against Palestinians under occupation. I, myself, telephoned the Program Director the next day, January 4, 1979, and he confirmed having received such threats and was very apologetic and quite anxious.
This, we believe, is a clear example of illegitimate intimidation by one group of people in the community to prevent the Canadian people from having access, through the boroadcasting media, to another point of view. It also deprives our Arab-Canadian community from having its legitimate right to participate in legitimate community activities. I must assert that the Arab-Canadian Association has no complaint against the Program Director, personally. He was merely reacting under unjustifiable pressure. I must also add here, in parenthesis, that the press applies equally this bias.
To sum up, this is a mere glimpse of a lengthy catalogue of imbalance, omissions and misinformation, finally capped by an act of submission to intimidation. This clearly violates the fundamental principles of equality of participation and due regard and respect to all ethnic communities in this country of ours.
It is still our belief that the Canadian people deserve a better deal and are entitled to a more balanced informative reporting and handling of the news from an area, The Middle East, that continues to affect our lives as Canadians and threaten the peace of the entire world.
Ismail Zayid, M.D.