- Interview with Derrick O’Keefe, editor of rabble.ca, by Stefan Christoff.
- Photo: Mohanned Mansour. Solidarity protests with Gaza in Montreal.
Media coverage in Canada on the latest war in Gaza often failed to clearly represent the situation on the ground in Palestine and also the response in Canada to the latest crisis.
As thousands gathered for unprecedented street protests in solidarity with Palestinian human rights across the country, mainstream media often downplayed the numbers protesting and at times misrepresented the messages expressed at the demonstrations.
Street protests in Canada against the latest Israeli attack on Gaza were the largest Palestinian solidarity demonstrations in Canadian history, while reports from major media outlets, including the CBC, did not accurately convey the unprecedented size of the protests.
In the Middle East major Canadian media outlets didn’t have correspondents based in Gaza during the latest spike in violence, as the Israeli government banned foreign journalists from entering Gaza to report on the impacts of the conflict on the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Correspondents from the Globe and Mail or reporters from the CBC told the story of the war from inside Israel not directly featuring the voices of impacted Palestinians.
In this context people in Canada are increasingly turning to alternative or on-line sources of media to read direct accounts from the ground in Gaza and also to gain accurate coverage on the Palestinian solidarity movement in Canada.
Derrick O’Keefe is the editor of rabble.ca an important alternative on-line media project incorporating writing, video and audio reporting from a progressive perspective. During the latest conflict in Gaza rabble.ca offered special coverage on the situation in Gaza and the response from progressive movements in Canada to the Conservative government’s outright support for Israeli military actions in the Gaza Strip. Derrick O’Keefe spoke with Tadamon! for a live interview on CKUT radio in Montreal.
Stefan Christoff: Wondering if you could offer your thoughts on Canadian media coverage on the recent war in Gaza, wondering if you found the coverage balanced or if you found any important points of bias in Canadian reporting on the conflict.
Derrick O’Keefe: Recently writer Norman Finkelstein visited Vancouver and in a lecture at the University of British Colombia pointed to the Canadian media as the most shameless in their coverage on Gaza, referring to the corporate media’s blatant bias in support of Israel.
A recent piece by Justin Podur who writes and edits for Z magazine wrote, “if you want to have the first idea what is happening in Israel/Palestine (or most of the rest of the world), the best thing to do would be to turn them off completely.”
Canadian media coverage has been quite shameful, especially in this latest conflict and many people have begun turning to alternative sources of news. Rabble.ca tried to make a modest contribution to the independent media efforts on Gaza, we set-up a special page to aggregate alternative coverage on the conflict.
Think that the technological advances are helping, today if people know where to look it is possible to get accurate news coverage, projects like Electronic Intifada and also things like being able to watch Al Jazeera international live on-line, both sources of honest reporting from the ground in Palestine that we don’t get from our corporate media here in Canada.
Stefan Christoff: In 2006 Stephen Harper labeled the Israeli military attack on Lebanon in which over 1000 Lebanese civilians died as a ‘measured response’, catching quite a lot of flack for this statement across the country. In 2008 Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Lawrence Cannon made similar statements in regards to Israel’s military actions in Gaza, labeling the military campaign in Gaza as a ‘defensive’ action and stressed Israel’s ‘right to defense’. Given this blatant pro-Israel bias from the highest levels of political power in the country wondering your thoughts on how the Conservative government’s direct support for Israel has influenced coverage from major media institutions. Do you see a difference between the bias reflected in the media coverage and the positions of the Conservative government?
Derrick O’Keefe: Over the past couple years there has been a noticeable pro-war shift in the Canadian press, especially on the questions of Afghanistan, which was independent of Harper coming to power. CBC national news has really been leading the charge in pushing this pro-war policy through programs like the National with Peter Mansbridge.
On Palestine there is also a pro-Israel slant, a pro-war slant. An example of blatant misrepresentation on the coverage of the major protests in Canada just a week after the Israeli attack on Gaza began was on CBC national news.
On the evening of January 3rd, CBC news reporter Michael Dick filed a report from the Toronto demonstration which a number of other media outlets reported as having ‘thousands’ of participants, City News in Toronto reported as having as many as five thousand.
CBC’s reporter in Toronto claimed that there were no more than a thousand protesters downtown, and throughout the entire report it was never made clear that this was a Palestine solidarity rally with a small pro-Israeli counter protest. The entire report portrayed the event as if the two sides had gathered to yell at each other in equal numbers however in reality you had a crowd of around 10 000 people coming out for a demonstration to condemn the Israeli attack on Gaza and Canada’s support of Israel’s actions.
The entire two minute report on CBC doesn’t even tell you who organized the protest, what the demands of the protest were, entirely playing into this false narrative of two irrational sides angry at each other.
In fact the identity of the protesters were falsely identified by CBC reporter Michael Dick, who stated that “tension now passed a boiling point between many Israeli and Palestinian Canadians,” based on this assumption that everyone at the protest is a Palestinian-Canadian and everyone at the small counter demonstration was an Israeli-Canadian, which is just very, very absurd reporting. In this particular example it is not clear if it is incompetence or malice, or perhaps a combination of both.
Certainly Canada’s public broadcaster, the CBC, hasn’t played the role of being any sort of watch dog on Canadian government policy on this key foreign policy issue.
Stefan Christoff: As you mentioned there were major protests across Canada against Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, it’s important to point out that these are some of the largest demonstrations to support Palestinian human rights in Canadian history. Given that rabble.ca emerged as a media project from progressive movements in this country, wondering your thoughts on why there was such a major response from people on the streets in Canada, thousands in Montreal and Toronto, to Israel’s latest bombardment of Gaza?
Derrick O’Keefe: First want to mention another key point that the mainstream media coverage in Canada failed to report on were the major demonstrations in Europe, which included a major demonstration in London which was estimated as having over 100 000 people, tens-of-thousands in Berlin, Barcelona, Paris and across the world.
In terms of Canada’s response the size of the demonstrations are certainly a positive step, Ali Abunimah from Electronic Intifada recently said in an interview that the massacre of Gaza had resulted in an unprecedented mainstreaming of Palestine solidarity work.
Certainly in Canada it is important to not minimize the major obstacles still in the way [of the Palestinian solidarity movement], the apathy and lack of awareness that we still need to work through.
It is the long term organizing work that groups have been doing in Canada that is having an impact, for example in Toronto the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid who over the last three years has been doing excellent broad political and cultural work on the issue. All the unglamorous work that is undertaken by activists year after year resulted in the major size of the recent protests for Palestine.
* Derrick O’Keefe is the editor of rabble.ca.
* Stefan Christoff is a community organizer and journalist based in Montreal, this interview was broadcast on CKUT radio in Montreal and transcribed for publication on Tadamon!.