Pressuring Canada's Biased Media: CJPME Wins and Trends

Pressuring_the_media.pngLast year, CJPME launched our Media Accountability Project” (MAP), an initiative to challenge Canadian media bias against Palestinians and their narratives.  Every day, our MAP team of staff and volunteers send letters to media outlets pushing for more balanced and informed coverage.  Click here to see the hundreds of instances where we've influenced coverage, and the hundreds of "media alerts" that have mobilized our team of "media responders."  

But the bigger story is the broader trends: how do media misrepresent student protest encampments; how are media headlines used to skew perceptions; and more.  Check out our analysis of the trends below, and how we've been able to influence them.  If you like what you see, please consider donating to support our work.  And if you want to participate, consider signing up as a "media responder."  

Shockwaves from whistleblower revelations

The Breach’s recent exposé by a CBC whistleblower has shaken Canada's media establishment. Their article “CBC has whitewashed Israel’s crimes in Gaza. I saw it firsthand” details what many suspected was happening behind the scenes at Canada’s public broadcaster. Senior CBC staff routinely censor Palestinian voices, report Israeli allegations without skepticism, and avoid critical reporting on Palestine that might lead to blowback from the pro-Israel lobby. CBC is so far refusing to take accountability

As the situation in Gaza continues to deteriorate due to Israel’s genocidal military actions, journalists in Canada find different ways to express their frustration with the editorial limits they face in the newsroom. Some journalists have described the media censorship in private exchanges with CJPME staff. Still others, like Zahraa Al-Akhrass, a former Global News reporter, have gone public with their stories. Hear her story in CJPME’s Palestine Debrief podcast’s most recent episode, "Exposing Anti-Palestine Media Biases: with Zahraa Al Akhrass." 

Since The Breach's article, CJPME’s Media Accountability Project has already noticed changes in how CBC dialogues with advocates concerned about their coverage of Palestine. We continue to pressure the CBC and other outlets to address their systemic anti-Palestinian bias.

Misrepresentations of student encampments

As students set up Gaza solidarity encampments on campuses around the world, they managed to make Israel’s genocide unignorable. Not surprisingly, many media conglomerates - like Postmedia - have targeted student encampments with slanted news coverage and a near-endless stream of inflammatory op-eds. 

Media outlets unfairly portray protesters as antisemitic by simply lying or by using the questionable actions of one person to misrepresent an entire movement. One recent example was CTV reporting the unfounded claim that an effigy of Netanyahu was “dressed in concentration camp attire” when, in reality, it was a prison costume. For its part, CTV is refusing to correct itself, which led CJPME to file a formal complaint with a broadcast media ethics council, the Canadian Broadcasting Standards Council. We are still awaiting the outcome of the process.

(Intentionally) misleading headlines

There are numerous examples of mainstream media downplaying misconduct by pro-Israel individuals and mischaracterizing, as well as exaggerating, the actions of pro-Palestine demonstrators.  The three examples below occurred in early 2024.

David Menzies, a reporter for Rebel News, a far-right Canadian media outlet, was arrested in Ottawa during a pro-Palestine demonstration. Around the same time, a pro-Palestine demonstrator was also arrested. Global News lied and ran a headline stating that two pro-Palestine demonstrators were arrested. We challenged them and prompted a change. However, many other outlets ran more insidious headlines about “two people” being detained at a pro-Palestine protest. The assumption made by a significant number of readers when they see these headlines is that pro-Palestine protesters were arrested. Typically, even if these articles do mention that one of the arrested was not pro-Palestine, it is obfuscated with vague language, such that only the most knowledgeable readers would catch the nuance.

In a second shameful example, white supremacist Stephen Swail was arrested after shouting “White power” at pro-Palestine protesters in Toronto and shoving someone. Another individual was arrested around the same time who was allegedly a pro-Palestine demonstrator. Despite the clear difference between these individuals, headlines failed to make any distinctions, just stating that “two people'' were arrested at a demonstration. The articles themselves omitted mention of Stephen Swail’s actions, which had been shared widely on social media. It is another example of misleading readers into thinking that pro-Palestinian protests are not peaceful when it was not a pro-Palestine demonstrator who disturbed the peace.

In a third outrageous example, demonstrators in Thornhill, ON protested outside a synagogue hosting a "real-estate event." Video evidence shows a 27-year-old man attacking pro-Palestinian demonstrators with a nail gun. Despite this clear dynamic, the CTV News article was initially titled, “1 arrest at pro-Palestinian rally near Thornhill synagogue,” and later changed to “Man charged after bringing nail gun to demonstration in Thornhill, Ont.: police.” Both of these titles fail to make it clear that an agitator attacked pro-Palestine demonstrators and obscure the story to make it seem like a pro-Palestine demonstrator could have been the one to bring a nail gun to the protest. This is yet another example of how threats faced by pro-Palestine demonstrators are covered ambiguously.

"Food insecurity" or manufactured famine?

As starvation rates climb in Gaza, journalists are increasingly obliged to describe this tragedy in their reporting. But, against all humanity, mainstream coverage leaves the cause of this famine and starvation unnamed. The truth is clear: the famine in Gaza is manmade. It is the result of Israel’s military actions. Israel’s highest-ranking officials have advocated using starvation as a weapon of war, and a Human Rights Watch report confirms this tactic.

The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) released a study in early 2024 that found the entire population of Gaza is at risk of famine. The study was clear that Israeli bombardment, ground operations, and besiegement of the entire population are the cause of “catastrophic levels of acute food insecurity.” Given that some of Canada’s leading newspapers, like the Globe and Mail, have seen their editorial boards publish endorsements of Israel’s genocidal campaign, it is not surprising that the realities of this famine are omitted or downplayed.

In one example, CBC News reported on the “food insecurity” faced by Gazans but failed to use language which adquately described the situation or its severity. Such weak language downplays the seriousness of the famine. After our complaint, CBC adapted their coverage and used stronger language.

Swapping "opinion" for "news"

In news reporting, journalistic ethics oblige outlets to convey facts with accuracy, balance, and fairness.  Opinion columns, on the other hand, represent the personal perspective of the writer.  According to the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ), media should clearly differentiate between news and opinion so the audience knows which is which. 

CJPME feels like the distinction is pretty obvious, but many news outlets intentionally confuse the two, with huge ethical implications.

The Toronto Sun, in particular, has been publishing columnists who not only publish demonstrable falsehoods but also mark their opinion columns as news. Despite our efforts, the Sun has refused to label these articles correctly. CJPME has begun taking cases to the National NewsMedia Council, a Canadian media ethics committee, to challenge the Sun's ethical violations formally.

Some media use opinion articles to perpetuate lies about Palestine organizers in an effort to delegitimize them. Columnists like Warren Kinsella, Joe Warmington, and Brian Lilley of the Toronto Sun write sensationalist, sometimes outright false stories, making all kinds of bizarre claims about pro-Palestine demonstrators. They have claimed, for example, that Iran funds protests, but without any evidence. These journalists peddle dangerous and damaging lies to their Postmedia readers and their following of tens of thousands on Twitter and elsewhere without consequence (formerly Canwest, the Postmedia Network is the largest media conglomerate in Canada). Sadly, there is very little in the way of enforcement options.  So right-wing opinion is often peddled as news.

The “terror” double standard

Although "terrorism" has no universally accepted definition, it is generally understood to be violence against civilians in support of an ideological goal. Disagreements surround questions like whether only "non-state actors" can commit terror attacks or what a "non-state actor" even is. Is Hamas a state actor if it governs the Gaza Strip?  And if a newsroom labels Hamas attacks as terror, shouldn't it also refer to Israeli attacks as terror.

Last year, during a significant Israeli siege on Jenin, CJPME challenged the CBC’s use of the terminology of terror. We are still awaiting a review by the Ombudsman.

CJPME has started to criticize the systematic use of the word “terror” to refer to Hamas actions. In one example, a Palestinian mother in Canada had her words paraphrased, and the Ottawa Citizen used the word “terrorism” in this paraphrase to describe the actions of Hamas. After a CJPME complaint, the Vancouver Sun apologized and altered the text to remove reference to terror.  Such double standards occur all too often.   


Can you support our work?

CJPME's ability to challenge the media literally day-after-day is only possible through the generosity of private donors. We have one full-time staffperson, and several part-time staff dedicated to this issue.  If you believe in this work, please consider making a gift of financial support to CJPME. Monthly donations are especially helpful, as they sustain our ongoing work and make it easier for us to strategize for the future. If you don't like to donate by credit card, you may donate via email transfer, over the phone (438-380-5410), or complete and mail in this form.

Thank you for supporting our collective efforts.  Every added voice makes a difference!