One cannot critique media without an understanding of media ethics principles. In Canada, serious journalists are part of the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ), and adhere to its Ethics Guidelines. The Ethics Guidelines is a six-page document which categorizes journalistic ethics into a number of key categories, each of which has numerous sub-bullets of description. These categories are listed here, along with the key descriptive points which will most likely be relevant in CJPME’s work:
- “We are disciplined in our efforts to verify all facts.”
- “We seek documentation to support the reliability of those sources and their stories, and we are careful to distinguish between assertions and fact.”
- “When we make a mistake, whether in fact or in context, and regardless of the platform, we correct* it promptly and in a transparent manner, acknowledging the nature of the error.”
- “We respect the rights of people involved in the news.”
- “We do not refer to a person’s race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, gender self-identification or physical ability unless it is pertinent to the story.”
- “We do not allow our own biases to impede fair and accurate reporting.”
- “We serve democracy and the public interest by reporting the truth. This sometimes conflicts with various public and private interests, including those of sources, governments, advertisers and, on occasion, with our duty and obligation to an employer.”
- “Defending the public’s interest includes promoting the free flow of information, exposing crime or wrongdoing, protecting public health and safety, and preventing the public from being misled.”
- “We do not give favoured treatment to advertisers and special interests. We resist their efforts to influence the news.”
- “We admit openly when we have made a mistake, and we make every effort to correct* our errors immediately.”
- Promises to sources
- “News organizations – including newspapers, websites, magazines, radio and television – provide forums for the free interchange of information and opinion. As such, we seek to include views from all segments of the population.”
- “We also encourage our organizations to make room for the interests of all: minorities and majorities, those with power and those without it, holders of disparate and conflicting views.”
- “We are accountable to the public for the fairness and reliability of our reporting.”
- “We serve the public interest, and put the needs of our audience – readers, listeners or viewers – at the forefront of our newsgathering decisions.”
- “We clearly identify news and opinion so that the audience knows which is which.”
Standards for Coverage of the Middle East and Palestine-Israel
Media coverage of the Middle East and Palestine-Israel must be respectful of the peoples, religions and cultures involved. CJPME recommends a number of resources regarding media coverage for Palestine-Israel, whether for professional journalists, or for the general public.
- Tips and resources for covering issues related to Israel and Palestine (in pdf.) Published by the International Journalists Network, the Arab and Middle East Journalists Association (AMEJA) proposes guidance to help newsrooms "more accurately and critically cover issues related to Israel and Palestine." The guide was prepared by AMEJA members to enable a better understanding of historical context and nuance around Palestine-Israel.
- A reporters glossary of loaded language in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (in pdf.) This guide, proposed by the International Press Institute (IPI), provides excellent input for journalists covering Paletine. In its Introduction, the IPI writes, "This handbook was created to help journalists covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict be aware of the nuances behind some expressions commonly associated with it. The handbook is the result of careful analysis and hard work by a group of six respected journalists and media experts from Israel and the Palestinian Territories, who advised IPI in the creation of this book. All of them drew on their years of experience covering the conflict – and living in it."
- Guidance for Reporting on Palestine/Israel (in pdf.) The Institute for Middle East (IMEU) Understanding proposes guidance and suggested language to improve journalistic coverage of Palestine/Israel, for greater clarity, accuracy, and fairness.
- 10 things to remember when reporting on Palestine (in pdf.) The Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy (PIPD) provides an excellent list of recommendations for journalists reporting on Palestine-Israel, particularly to ensure media fairness to Palestinians.
CJPME is also concerned that much media coverage of Palestine-Israel is tainted by anti-Palestinian racism (APR.) CJPME encourages journalists to review the description of anti-Palestinian racism published by the Arab Canadian Lawyers Association (ACLA) in 2022. Journalists should become familiar with the way APR manifests itself in the public discourse around Palestine-Israel to ensure that it does not creep into their coverage of Palestine-Israel.
Typical Problems in Canadian Coverage of the Middle East
Some of the typical problems in Canadian media coverage of the Middle East include some of the following:
De-contextualization of story/motivations: Failure to provide important context in which the omitted information is essential to understanding a decision, action or event, its motivations, or key events leading up to it.
Omission of key information: Failure to include information, or selective inclusion of information which distorts the presentation of events in favour of one side or another.
Misleading word Choice: Failure to use words that would most accurately and clearly convey the facts and context of a story.
Prejudicial placement of viewpoint: Placement of a viewpoint in a preferential location (e.g. in the title, headline or in the upper paragraphs) resulting in increased read exposure and preferential consideration for one side of a story.
Single viewpoint reporting: Reporting which favours one viewpoint over another. Some articles will provide (or favour) viewpoints or quotes from only one side of an issue.
Selective reporting: Devoting more resources, such as news articles, more space, or more journalists to the coverage of one side of the story at the expense of the other.
Omission of critical perspectives: Sometimes, even if every common viewpoint is presented, the actors chosen to present the viewpoints are not diverse (e.g. interviewing a progressive Israeli, rather than interviewing a Palestinian.)
Failure to properly qualify the assertions of protagonists: Stories reporting on conflict must be sceptical when providing the perspective of one of the belligerent parties.
Factual errors: Errors in content or context that mislead the unsuspecting reader. Media ethics guides inevitably list factual accuracy as the most important responsibility of a journalist.
Self-Censorship: The decision not to cover certain developments, or to play down the significance of such developments, in order to avoid professional reprimands/penalties, or to avoid facing vocal or powerful critics.
Lack of verification: Failure to perform factual verification, and the publication of potentially unreliable information prior to or without independent confirmation of the facts.
Prejudice: Journalists may partially distort reports due to political ideology, national affiliation, or other personal convictions.