Chilling statement

Conservative MPs motion for investigation into CBC coverage of Israel-Gaza war

Two conservative members of Parliament motioned for the Public Accounts Committee to investigate the terminology used by the CBC to refer to Hamas and require CBC executives to appear before the committee to face questions.

Conservative MP Melissa Lantsman introduced the motion on Oct 17, 2023, in response to an internal memo issued by the CBC’s director of journalistic standards which reminded journalists of the media organization’s long-standing policy of avoiding the use of the word “terrorist” to refer to militants, including Hamas. 

Shortly after Hamas’ Oct. 7, 2023, attack on Israel, George Achi, CBC director of journalistic standards and public trust, wrote to CBC journalists and asked them to re-read the organization’s style guide entry on the Middle East, CBC reported

Under CBC policy, journalists “do not refer to militants, soldiers or anyone else as ‘terrorists,’” Achi noted in the message. The CBC style guide notes that “terrorism” is a “highly controversial term that can leave journalists taking sides in a conflict.” 

Achi’s email was later leaked. In response, Lantsman asked the committee to denounce the CBC directive and to require Achi and president and CEO of CBC/Radio-Canada Catherine Tait to appear before the committee. 

Lantsman also told the committee that she felt Achi’s email directed CBC journalists to “downplay” the Hamas attack, and questioned the accuracy of CBC’s Gaza coverage.

In response to Achi’s caution about journalists being seen to be taking sides in a conflict, Conservative MP Rachael Thomas (who supported the motion) told the committee: “Of course you’re taking a side – you’re taking a side against terrorists. What other side would you want to take? … Whose side are you on?” she asked. 

Bloc Québécois, NDP and most Liberal members of the committee voted to end debate on the motion, reported CBC

Thomas raised the issue again at the Oct. 19, 24 and 26 meetings of the House of Commons Heritage Committee. At the Oct. 19 meeting, she said the CBC had chosen to “side with the terrorists” and was “pumping out false information.” 

At the Oct. 26 Heritage Committee meeting, Thomas accused the CBC of “spreading dangerous disinformation” and called on the CBC to “apologize to the Jewish community and all Canadians.” She repeated that she believed the CBC had decided “to be on the side of Hamas, which is to be on the side of terrorists, which is to be against the Jewish population, which is wrong.” 

Other news organizations take a similar approach as the CBC around the word “terrorism.” The Associated Press describes Hamas as a “militant” group, and recommends in its style guide that journalists avoid “terrorism” and “terrorist” in general. Those terms “have become politicized, and often are applied inconsistently” and are imprecise, the AP style guide notes: “Because they can be used to label such a wide range of actions and events, and because the debate around them is so intense, detailing what happened is more precise and better serves audiences.” 

AFP uses a similar style, as does the Globe and Mail, which does not use the term “terrorist” except in quotations. The Globe describes Hamas as “an Islamist militant group that is committed to the destruction of Israel and is designated as a terrorist group by Canada.” 

The BBC also used “militant” until the October 2023 Hamas attacks, when it shifted to describing Hamas simply by its name, or as “a terrorist organization proscribed by the UK government and others.”