CanWest 'Terrorist' Tangle

CanWest has modified Reuters news wire stories, inserting the word 'terrorist' for 'militant', 'insurgent' or 'extremist'. CanWest states it is striving to strip the news wire stories of "misleading gloss" as a duty to its readership. Here's an example of their helpfulness:

[A National Post] article, filed from Jerusalem and carrying the byline "Jeffrey Heller, Reuters, with files from Agence France-Presse," described the al-Aqsa Martyr Brigades of the West Bank as "a terrorist group that has been involved in a four-year-old campaign of violence against Israel." The Reuters original story referred to "the al-Aqsa Martyr Brigades, which has
been involved in a four-year revolt against Israeli occupation in Gaza and the West Bank."

Don't get me wrong: I do not support Al-Aqsa's tactics, and they certainly appear to be responsible for numerous civilian casualties. However, while the alteration is substantial, the article is attributed to Reuters without qualification.

CanWest's policy is to apply the term 'terrorist' to "someone who deliberately targets civilians." Hmmm. Would they paint the US with this brush? After all, the US is responsible for the deliberate attacks on civilian populations in Japan, at Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. The Allies were also responsible for attacks on civilians notoriously in Dresden. Israel routinely targets civilians with its violence. So is CanWest merely calling a spade a spade? Is their readership too unsophisticated to draw distinctions between militants, insurgents, terrorists, fugitives, protesters, fanatics, etc? Wouldn't life be simpler if you could tar any ululating, gun-toting brownie with the same brush?

Reuters does not want to be seen holding that brush. I don't want to buy a newspaper, read a magazine, or watch broadcasts from a company that does. Here is a list of the major media properties owned by CanWest. Be sure they do not profit from your patronage.

Major Metropolitan Newspapers
• National Post
Montreal Gazette
• Ottawa Citizen
• Windsor Star
• Regina Leader-Post
• Saskatoon StarPhoenix
• Calgary Herald
• Edmonton Journal
Vancouver Sun
Vancouver Province
Victoria Times-Colonist

Television Networks
• Global Television
• CH Hamilton
• CH Vancouver Island
• CH Montreal
• CHBC Kelowna
• CKRD Red Deer
• Men TV
• Mystery
• DejaView
• Lonestar
• Fox Sportsworld Canada
• Xtreme Sports

Broadcast Radio
CKBT 91.5 The BEAT
• Channel Z
• Solid Gold FM
The Rock FM Network
The Edge

Net Portal
• canada.com

This begs the question: What is a terrorist? How should a terrorist be defined? Are insurgents or rebels resisting the invasion of their country terrorists? According to the Criminal Code of Canada, terrorist activity is defined very broadly indeed. Terrorist attacks need not harm civilians. Property damage or a disruption of service is sufficient to qualify as terrorist activity if it is committed "for a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause" and "with the intention of intimidating the public...with regard to its security, including its economic security, or compelling a person, a government or a domestic or an international organization to do or to refrain from doing any act." So if you blockade a road to protest clear-cuts, is that a terrorist activity?

Well, maybe. But "This definition of “terrorist activity” expressly excludes ordinary acts of advocacy, protest, dissent, work stoppage, or the expression of political, religious or ideological thoughts, beliefs or opinions per se." (see here)

Confused yet?

Perhaps because it is so challenging to define, and because of the fear that grips the West, terrorism constitutes a charged, dangerous and potentially misleading label. It should be used judiciously, and more precise terms should be used in its place where possible. This appears to be what Reuters is doing. Not only is CanWest changing Reuters' copy, it is falsely attributing that copy to Reuters. Who knows what other misrepresentations are routinely intoroduced into CanWest's reporting as a matter of policy, or tolerated at the whim of their editors.

A news organization's most valuable asset is its reliability. Look at CBS's recent woes when it undermined the public's trust. CanWest has lost mine.


apple said...

I'm sure these practices are widespread and largely go unnoticed and unreported. I am finding it increasingly difficult to listen to and read news reports because I find the language so offensive. When the War on Iraq commenced, stations were reporting the 'Shock and Awe' campaign as if they were reporting on the festivities of New Year's Eve. I was actually sitting with a number of US diplomats and military officers when the bombing commenced and there was almost a celebratory mood that made me feel physically ill.
Fast-forward to today, I hear about Iraq's liberators, not the American-led Coalition, I read about terrorist bombers "wreaking havoc" and the IDF "rooting out terrorist cells"; the Palestinian intifada that plagues the region and Israel's security fence.

I really can't believe how irresponsible 'news sources' are and their blatant disrespect for the people they supposedly strive to inform. Enjoyed the post, thank you.

Anonymous said...

When the 'coalition of the willing' - aka the USA - first began its invasion of Iraq I noticed a peculiar journalism style when reporting on dead US soldiers. One night CNN showed two coffins draped in the US flag. As you are no doubt aware the US media is not allowed to show any footage of actual dead american people so coffin draped flags will have to suffice. The headline read: "Heroes Return From Iraq", rather than the more accurate "Two Dead US Soldiers Return For Burial". This 'Ministry of Truth' sort of reporting is certainly disturbing, as it imposes values rather than report the facts and allow the viewer to make their own interpretation of events. Despite my misgivings I am too lazy to cancel my Edmonton Journal subscription, Iz.
ps - when do you find the time for this blog? Do you have a 28 hour day?