2022-79: White v Toronto Star

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February 1, 2023 – for immediate release

The National NewsMedia Council dismissed a complaint about accuracy and reporting on sensitive issues in a November 21, 2022, news article, “New Democratic MPP Joel Harden under fire for antisemitic comments,” published by the Toronto Star.

The article reported on an Ontario Member of Provincial Parliament who had apologized for antisemitic comments. Jeff White filed a complaint stating that the article inaccurately conflated criticism of the Israeli government with antisemitism.

The Toronto Star responded to the complainant’s concerns by stating that the article was accurate, fair, and balanced in their view. It pointed out that the MPP’s statements were viewed as antisemitic not because they criticized Israel but because he was asking Jewish Canadians to answer for Israel’s actions.

The Star further explained that the controversy surrounding MPP Joel Harden’s remarks was about the problematic approach of believing people in Canada must answer to, or take responsibility for, a foreign government’s actions based on their race, ethnicity, or religion. Additionally, the news organization noted that the story accurately reflected the reasons that the MPP issued an apology.

In reviewing the complaint, the article, and the news organization’s response, the NNC is of the view that the article accurately characterized the statements of the MPP in question.

Further, the NNC would point out that it found no evidence to support the claim that the article suggested that criticism of Israel or its policy decisions is antisemitic. In fact, the article addresses this point directly by stating, “Asked if criticism of Israel is antisemitic, Tabuns said, ‘Criticism of any nation is not in itself antisemitic, but antisemitic statements, antisemitic stereotypes, those aren’t acceptable.’”

In this case, the NNC supports the news organization’s view that the article accurately reported that the MPP’s statements were harmful not because they criticized a government’s actions but because they perpetuated antisemitic stereotypes and suggested that Jewish Canadians were responsible for Israel’s actions.

Importantly, the NNC would point out that the MPP characterized his own remarks as perpetuating antisemitic stereotypes and apologized for such statements.

The NNC recognizes that this is a particularly sensitive issue deserving appropriate journalistic care and attention to language use. The NNC also recognizes that not all readers will agree with the quoted statements in the article, such as those suggesting that the MPP should not be allowed to remain in the party caucus. While readers have the prerogative to disagree with opinions expressed by individuals quoted in stories, that in itself is not a breach of journalistic standards.

For the reasons outlined above, the NNC found no evidence to support a complaint about a breach of journalistic standards in this case and therefore dismissed the complaint.