"Given that, to our knowledge, the segment did not contain any “egregious error or violation” such as defamatory material or legal restrictions, there is no basis on which the segment should have been removed. The act of unpublishing not only removes content from the public and historical record but fails to uphold a standard of transparency and accountability."
August 23, 2023
Catherine Tait, President and CEO, CBC
Brodie Fenlon, News Editor-in-Chief, CBC News
George Achi, Director of Journalistic Standards and Public Trust, CBC News
Jack Nagler, Ombudsman, CBC News
Feleshia Chandler, Journalist, CBC
Portia Clark, Host, CBC
Christina Harnett, Producer, CBC
Jerry West, Producer, CBC
I'm writing on behalf of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME, https://www.cjpme.org) to express serious concern about CBC’s unpublishing of a radio segment aired originally by Information Morning in Halifax, which was subsequently published on CBC News and the Information Morning website. The CBC News link now displays a 404 error and the Information Morning page no longer lists the segment.
Attempts to understand why the segment was unpublished led to the following response from Associate Producer Jerry West on August 22 at 1:40 PM:
“Sorry, the technician who could fix that is gone for the day now. Here is an MP3 that you can share with people. Please don't post it anywhere though, because the copyright belongs to the CBC.”
It strikes us as strange that this would be portrayed as a technical issue awaiting the intervention of a staffer who “is gone for the day” at 1:40 PM, and yet the segment has still not been uploaded 24 hours later (a critical period for anyone who heard the segment on air and wants to share it). This only fuels the suspicion that the decision was related to the content of the segment itself. The unpublishing of the segment is especially alarming given that it features a Palestinian living in Halifax, Yara Jamal, discussing a Palestine book club, human rights groups' claims of Israel committing the crime of apartheid, and other themes that have caused controversy at CBC in the past (see: Ombudsman Review: An Awkward Apology, "CBC Journalists Told They Can’t Cover Israel-Palestine After Demanding Fairer Coverage", "CBC’s Palestine Exception", and “CBC still reviewing why it deleted the word ‘Palestine’”).
This issue came to our attention because, shortly after sharing the segment links, the segment was removed and recipients were not able to listen.
I insist that:
- The segment be republished;
- An apology be issued, as this event has been upsetting to people in Canada’s Palestinian community, the clip has been unavailable in the critical time following the original airing of the broadcast, and this incident has only fueled the belief that the CBC is biased in its reporting on Palestine;
- The CBC Ombudsman conduct a formal review;
- An appropriate party conduct an investigation to find out why and how this decision was made and release a public report of the findings.
Unpublishing is an extraordinary decision. Any decision to unpublish, other than highly exceptional circumstance, is a serious violation of journalist ethics.
In 2010, the Canadian Association of Journalists published a panel report titled “The ethics of unpublishing” that provided the best practices regarding the unpublishing of an article. We note three recommended practices they provided below:
- “Published digital content is part of the historical record and should not be unpublished. News organizations do not rewrite history or make news disappear.”
- “There may be some rare circumstances involving egregious error or violation of journalistic ethics where it is deemed necessary to remove content from the published archive. In most cases, this would be for legal reasons, including defamatory material, material that is in contravention of a publication ban or other legal restrictions.”
- “Those who seek to have published content removed may not understand the journalistic reasons to resist unpublishing. Many see the online article as an easily altered version of the story. We should make great effort to explain our unpublishing policy and help those who seek to have published material removed understand that this is an issue of integrity and credibility and reflects our sense of responsibility to our audiences, our community and the historical record.”
Given that, to our knowledge, the segment did not contain any “egregious error or violation” such as defamatory material or legal restrictions, there is no basis on which the segment should have been removed.
The act of unpublishing not only removes content from the public and historical record but fails to uphold a standard of transparency and accountability.
In a survey conducted in 2009 with editors from 110 North American news organizations as part of the Associated Press Managing Editors Online Credibility Project, there was a “strong reluctance” to remove published digital content. The editors surveyed reached the following consensus:
“Not one of the 110 editors surveyed would remove content because of source remorse. These editors expressed the strong belief that published digital content is a matter of public record and is part of our transparency contract with our audiences — just as our newspapers and newscasts have always been. Any request to unpublish must be weighed against this overriding value. Removing published content — in effect, making news disappear — diminishes transparency and trust with our audiences.”
You’re welcome to contact me at 438-380-5410 for more information or additional comment.
Director of Media Advocacy, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East