2024-13: Khurshid v National Post

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April 23, 2024 – for immediate release 

The National NewsMedia Council (NNC) has considered and found that corrective action was taken to address a concern about the accuracy of a statement in a January 9, 2024, opinion article published by the National Post.

Saad Khurshid filed a complaint alleging factual inaccuracies in an opinion column that argued police were not taking sufficient action to address antisemitic incidents. In particular, the complainant took issue with the accuracy of the statement that “an imam was cheered on by a large crowd as he called for the extermination of the Jews and asked Allah to ‘kill them all.’”

The complainant argued that this statement was inaccurate in that the imam “did not call for the extermination of Jews,” but instead denounced “Zionist aggressors” and “called on Allah to ‘kill the enemies of the people of Gaza and to spare none of them.’”

The news organization responded to the complainant’s concern about the accuracy of the statement in question by acknowledging, “It is true that the word ‘Zionist’ is used [by the imam] and the word ‘Jews’ is not, but this is a common tactic used by those targeting Jews, to claim they are merely targeting ‘Zionists.’”

The news organization pointed to a number of sources to support the view that “a Zionist is someone who supports a Jewish homeland in Israel, which more often than not overlaps with Jewish people,” and stated it was, therefore, fair comment for the columnist “to interpret calling for the death of Zionists as calling for the death of Jews.”

The complainant was not satisfied with the news organization’s response and further argued that the statement “incites fear and hatred of Muslims and pro-Palestinians by accusing them of supporting violent and genocidal antisemitism.”

Following further exchange of correspondence between parties, the news organization updated the statement in question with two hyperlinks to other articles that included direct translations of the imam’s statements.

The complainant remained unsatisfied with the additions, reiterating the view that the column’s statement should have distinguished between Zionists and Jews.

In reviewing the complainant, the NNC recognizes that the complainant also raised concerns with other language use and context in the column as well as issues with other articles published by the news organization.

In particular, the complainant stated that the column’s reference to an investigation into a fire at a Jewish-owned business was unfair in that there was no evidence to support the view that the incident arose from pro-Palestinian demonstrations.

In that case, it was the view of the NNC that an ordinary reading of the statement was meant to provide an example of the rise in antisemitic incidents, rather than directly link the incident to a specific demonstration. Further, the statement included a hyperlink to an article that provided more context on the matter.

The complainant also objected to the use of the word “invaded” and the reference to “disgraceful snubbing” to characterize other events subject to the column’s criticism.

The NNC has consistently stated that opinion writers may use strong language and have prerogative over source selection when presenting their arguments. In this case, the NNC noted that the other statements in question included hyperlinks to reports with further information for readers to understand the issues in context.

The NNC also recognizes that the complainant made allegations that some of the statements in question rose to the level of ‘hate’ as defined in the Criminal Code. However, as the NNC evaluates specific allegations of breaches of journalistic standards in individual articles, evaluating general concerns about a news organization’s coverage, or allegations of criminal matters, is not within the NNC’s mandate.

For the reasons outlined above, the NNC limited the scope of the complaint to the allegation of inaccuracy in the characterization of the imam’s statement.

In reviewing the matter, Council considered standards surrounding opinion content. The NNC supports the long-accepted journalistic practice giving columnists and opinion writers wide latitude to express unpopular views. Opinion writing is distinct from news, but must be grounded in fact and labelled appropriately.

The NNC has previously observed that including more information for readers by providing links to relevant news reports, or other sources, aligns with digital journalism’s best practices when commenting on sensitive or complex matters.

Importantly, it is not the role of the NNC to make broad determinations on complex societal issues that may be subject to debate, such as the equation of antisemitism with anti-Zionism. That said, the NNC recognizes that such a view, as well as its opposing view, may be reflected across opinion content. Further, showcasing different perspectives is in keeping with the media’s role in reflecting a diversity of views that are vital in a democratic society.

With respect to the specific statement in question, the NNC observed that publicly available reports note the fact that the speech has been subject to allegations of antisemitism. In this case, the statement may be read as a characterization of the speech based on the columnist’s own understanding of the larger issues.

That said, while opinion writers have latitude over word choice and the ability to use strong language in making unpopular or even provocative arguments, the NNC would urge particular care be taken to avoid the use of inflammatory or ambiguous language, especially when describing complex or sensitive matters.

For this reason, the NNC supported the news organization’s inclusion of multiple links to articles that include direct translations of the specific excerpt of the speech. In this way, readers may be able to assess the words in context and form their own conclusions. Providing this information at first instance may have avoided such concerns over misrepresentation.

For the reasons outlined above, Council found the matter resolved due to corrective action.