Tories blocked from summoning CBC execs over network's refusal to label Hamas 'terrorists'

Liberal MPs said it was necessary for parliamentarians not to enflame the debate, while the Bloc accused the Conservatives of looking for reasons to defund the CBC

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OTTAWA – An attempt by the Conservatives to summon CBC top executives over the network’s refusal to describe Hamas as terrorists was blocked Tuesday by the Liberals, the Bloc Québécois and the NDP.

Conservative deputy leader Melissa Lantsman put forward a motion to the parliamentary committee on public accounts asking it to denounce the position of the public broadcaster, and to call various CBC executives to appear in front of the committee for a minimum of two hours each. She had specified the executives as CBC president and CEO Catherine Tait, english-services ombudsman Jack Nagler and director of journalistic standards, George Achi.

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A memo to CBC staff from Achi that was leaked publicly explicitly told journalists to avoid using “terrorist” to describe Hamas after the group attacked Israel last week, brutally killing over 1,300 people and taking dozens of hostages, most of them civilians. Achi had said the word was to be avoided as the concept of terrorism “remains heavily politicized.”

“Even when quoting/clipping a government or a source referring to fighters as ‘terrorists;, we should add context to ensure the audience understands this is opinion, not fact. That includes statements from the Canadian government and Canadian politicians,” wrote Achi.

Hamas has long been officially labelled a terrorist group by the government of Canada.

“Given that this is a public broadcaster, that is held up by Canadian taxpayer dollars, it is incumbent upon this committee to hear from CBC leadership as to why this decision was made,” Conservative MP Rachael Thomas, who acts as the party’s critic on Canadian heritage, said in support of Lantsman’s motion.

“Accountability is absolutely needed with regard to this matter. And if this committee was to take any other stance than that, I would have to question the motives of those at this table. Because we should all be advocating for justice. We should all be advocating for the story to be told as it stands, which is (that) Hamas is in fact a terrorist organization. acting against innocent people,” Thomas said.

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Liberal MPs responded by saying it was necessary for parliamentarians not to enflame the debate, while the Bloc accused the Conservatives of looking for reasons to defund the CBC.

“This motion is like an onion. It unveils certain ideals from the Conservative Party of Canada regarding the financing of the CBC,” said Bloc MP Nathalie Sinclair-Desgagné, adding that Parliament does not control CBC news coverage.

Liberal MP Iqra Khalid said she questioned whether it is the right of parliamentarians to bring in a news organization before a committee to question it  on its standards and practices.

“The media are our watchdogs and they will post and they will say what needs to be said. And we, as Parliament, whether we agree with it or don’t agree with it, should not have a say in what they’re reporting on. Because that defeats the purpose of the media as watchdogs of our government and of parliamentarians,” she said.

Khalid then moved to adjourn debate on Lantsman’s motion, citing the need to “take a breather and, perhaps at a later time, come back to this issue”.

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Conservatives voted against adjourning the debate, joined by Liberal MP Kody Blois, who said he still wanted to speak to the matter. But in the end, the four remaining Liberal MPs, Sinclair-Desgagné and NDP MP Blake Desjarlais — who had not had time to speak but said he agreed with his Bloc colleague — all voted to end the debate on the motion.

Lantsman and Thomas put out a statement to criticize all three other parties for having “voted to protect the CBC by shutting this down” and vowed they would “not stop until the CBC provides answers for this disgraceful editorial stance.”

The editor in chief of CBC News, Brodie Fenlon, shared on Monday an editor’s note in which he wrote that not using the word “terrorist” had been CBC’s policy for decades, as it has been at several other news organizations including the BBC, AP, AFP and Reuters.

“Our focus is to report the facts of such atrocities with accuracy, clarity and detail; to convey the scale and scope of violent acts wherever they occur; to quote the people affected, and to convey the views of officials and experts on these events. We bear witness,” he wrote.

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“But CBC News does not itself designate specific groups as terrorists, or specific acts as terrorism, regardless of the region or the events, because these words are so loaded with meaning, politics and emotion that they can end up being impediments to our journalism.”

Fenlon added that CBC deployed several teams on the ground in Israel within hours of “these shocking Hamas attacks” and they had documented in “gruesome, explicit detail what transpired over that weekend.”

“I believe that we, as a news organization, have accurately depicted the horror of what happened in those attacks — and there is no doubt in the minds of our audience about what Hamas did,” he wrote.

National Post

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Originally posted 2023-10-17 19:27:07.