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January 21, 2003

Neil Macdonald had a bias, E I E I O

You better believe it

From Honestreporting.
Neil Macdonald, the Mideast correspondent for CBC (Canadian Broadcasting), forged a plot this week to publicly embarrass Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Macdonald spearheaded a drive to boycott the prime minister's annual party for members of the Foreign Press Association (FPA), which represents 300 foreign correspondents working in Israel. Macdonald wrote to fellow FPA members, suggesting that "on an official level, let the FPA send a single representative to the reception. Meanwhile, I intend to be absent. And I urge my colleagues to find other work that day, too."

Macdonald's scheme was to have Prime Minister Sharon show up to an empty banquet hall. In the end, 300 journalists packed Jerusalem's David Citadel Hotel on January 20 -- and it was Macdonald who was embarrassed.

Macdonald and CBC, a publicly-funded station, have long been criticized for biased reporting against Israel. Recently, Macdonald opposed the Canadian government's decision to classify Hizbullah as a "terror organization"; Macdonald suggested that Hizbullah is simply a "national liberation movement." Reporting from Lebanon, Macdonald spoke forlornly about how Hizbullah "runs a social network with projects like this one which retrains and offers work to disabled Lebanese."

Earlier this week, Norman Spector, Canada's former ambassador to Israel and a harsh critic of CBC's Mideast coverage, was scheduled to debate CBC news director Tony Burman on live television. However, CBC backed down from an earlier proposal that had Spector debating Burman one-on-one, opting instead for a panel debate that included Neil Macdonald and others. "They essentially wanted to go four-on-one," Spector said.

Whatever the case, now that Neil Macdonald has been exposed as waging a personal vendetta against the Israeli Prime Minister, his credibility as a journalist has been reduced to zero.

Clearly, Macdonald's days as a Mideast correspondent are rapidly ending. HonestReporting predicts he will be replaced within a month. And the entire episode has left a blot on CBC's reputation that will require great effort to overcome.

The issue of withholding credentials

In his search for co-conspirators, why did Neil Macdonald turn to members of the FPA? He apparently hoped to exploit the FPA's dissatisfaction with an Israeli government policy which opposes indiscriminately granting press credentials to Palestinians, and instead subjects them to the same rules as any other foreign workers in Israel.

Since press cards ease travel restrictions between Israel and the territories, and considering the security situation, the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO) found it necessary to use caution in giving credentials to Palestinians. In recent months, the GPO and the IDF have found that several Palestinian "journalists" have been involved in the smuggling of wanted fugitives from Arafat's Ramallah compound, and in general are seen as unofficial agents of the Palestinian Authority.

To put things into perspective, HonestReporting readers should recall the words of Fayad Abu Shamala, BBC's correspondent in Gaza for the past 10 years, who spoke at a Hamas rally in Gaza: "Journalists and media organizations [are] waging the campaign shoulder-to-shoulder together with the Palestinian people."

GPO Director Danny Seaman explains: "Israel is currently in a state of conflict with the Palestinians, and we should no sooner grant them press credentials than the U.S. government would give press cards to allow Iraqi or Taliban journalists to enter the United States."

However, as part of Israel's commitment to freedom of the press, the GPO evaluates each Arab journalist on an individual basis. In fact, journalists from Arab satellite TV Al-Jazeera and even Islamic Republic of Iran TV have broadcast from Jerusalem in recent months. Further, Nabil Khatib of MBC (Middle East Broadcasting Corp. based in Dubai UAE) has received GPO accreditation, "because they have shown a sense of professionalism," Seaman says.

The issue of Palestinian accreditation has now entered the courts. When one Palestinian employed by Reuters news service was caught working in Israel illegally, Reuters filed suit. The case has now reached the Israeli High Court of Justice, and a decision is expected to be handed down on Wednesday, January 22.

It is interesting to note that on the flip side, Israelis are not welcome to work in Palestinian-controlled areas, and in 2001 Palestinian leaders issued a death threat to any Israeli journalist entering PA-controlled areas. Further, the Arab Journalists Association has instructed its thousands of members to boycott Israeli newspapers and TV stations, and offenders are punishable by having their membership revoked or losing their jobs.

Yet the FPA has issued no protests against these discriminatory actions. HonestReporting asks: Why the double standard?

For all those who want to help, please write an email to the powers that be at CBC and tell them what you think about their bias.

e-mail to:

Robert Rabinovitch, President & CEO

Tony Burman, CBC News Director

CBC Ombudsman

CBC Audience Relations Department
Ted Belman