The advocacy group Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) is taking Canada’s largest newspaper conglomerate to task for publishing articles from a right-wing pro-Israel news site disguised as news wire stories across its chain.
Soon after the October 7 attack led by Hamas on southern Israel, the National Post, Postmedia’s flagship paper, began running stories on Israel and Palestine either from the Jewish News Syndicate (JNS) or with files from it, alongside stories from traditional international wire services, such as the Associated Press (AP) and Reuters.
The JNS stories, which typically rely exclusively on Israeli government sources and do not mention Palestinian civilian casualties, have been republished in Postmedia news outlets, including the Ottawa Citizen, Montreal Gazette, Calgary Herald, Edmonton Journal, Regina’s Leader Post and Saskatoon’s StarPhoenix, among others.
CJPME told The Maple it filed a formal complaint with the National NewsMedia Council (NNC) against Postmedia over its use of the pro-Israel source on December 4.
In some instances, JNS articles are republished with added context and quotations from other news outlets. In these cases, the content is attributed to “National Post News Services” or “National Post Wire Services.”
Jewish news outlets have historically used wire stories from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, which was founded in 1917 as the Jewish equivalent of the AP. JNS was established in 2011 to provide an explicitly pro-Israel perspective.
Russel Pergament, founding publisher of the JNS, criticized his competitor for being insufficiently supportive of Israel in its reporting, particularly when it came to Israel’s attack on the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish aid ship that sought to breach the blockade of Gaza in 2010.
“Their coverage of that indicated that some sources say the Israelis started the violence, other sources state the militants started the violence. There comes a time when you need to stand up for Israel when the facts and the truth are on our side,” Pergament told the American Jewish news outlet The Forward in 2013.
‘A Mouthpiece For The Israeli Military’
Jason Toney, CJPME’s director of media advocacy, told The Maple that the National Post first published an article solely attributed to the JNS on October 13.
Around this time, he began to notice “these very one-sided articles coming out that were basically a mouthpiece for the Israeli military, were just repeating their claims without any skepticism or challenge, and totally omitting any concerns of Palestinians or their supporters.”
It is Postmedia’s prerogative whether they want to run articles of this nature, Toney emphasized, “but the biggest issue from a journalistic principles and standards perspective is that it’s being marked as news … not as opinion.”
“That’s an extremely important distinction. In terms of all major Canadian journalistic standards, guidelines, it’s a clear violation,” he added.
The Canadian Press wire service’s news principles read in part: “Stick to the facts without editorial opinion or comment. Reporters’ opinions are not wanted in copy. Their observations are. So are accurate backgrounding and authoritative interpretation essential to the reader’s understanding of complicated issues.”
The first complaint to National Post editors about running JNS “advocacy polemics” as news stories came on October 17 from CJPME director of strategic operations Dan Freeman-Malloy, who asked that JNS copy “be dissociated from your news reporting and clearly marked as opinion.”
Freeman-Malloy described the JNS as a “pro-Israel think tank that produces hard-line opinions behind a ‘National Post Wire Service’ disguise.”
“This is a gross betrayal of public trust and a blow to the credibility of journalism nation-wide,” he said.
Reports Omit Key Details
CJPME’s Media Accountability Project (MAP), which Toney runs, sent out an alert about a JNS story that ran in the Post’s online edition on October 31 about an Israeli airstrike on the Jabalya refugee camp. The JNS story was headlined: “Hamas leader who directed Oct. 7 massacre of Israeli civilians is dead: IDF.”
The lede paragraph for the story, which didn’t mention Jabalya at all, read: “Israel struck over 300 Hamas targets and killed ‘numerous’ terrorists in the Gaza Strip over the past 24 hours, including a senior commander, the Israel Defense Forces said [...]”
By contrast, the headline for the same story in Reuters was: “Israel strikes dense Gaza camp, says it kills Hamas commander.”
Its lede read: “Israeli airstrikes hit a densely populated refugee camp in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, killing at least 50 Palestinians and a Hamas commander, and medics struggled to treat the casualties, even setting up operating rooms in hospital corridors.”
The AP headline read: “Israeli airstrikes crush apartments in Gaza refugee camp, as ground troops battle Hamas militants.”
Its lede read: “A barrage of Israeli airstrikes leveled apartment buildings in a refugee camp near Gaza City on Tuesday, with rescuers clawing through the destruction to pull men, women and children from the rubble. Israel said the strike, which targeted a senior Hamas military leader, destroyed a militant command center and an underground tunnel network.”
The JNS article in question, CJPME said, repeated unverified claims that Abu Anija was behind the October 7 attacks, failed to mention Israeli attacks on civilian infrastructure, referred to the occupied West Bank by its biblical name, “Judea and Samaria,” and included no Palestinian or pro-Palestinian perspectives.
The piece also ran in the November 1 print edition of the Leader Post, which added three paragraphs from a Washington Post story detailing the damage the airstrike did to the refugee camp.
The MAP alert urged CJPME supporters to complain to the National Post’s editor-in-chief, Rob Roberts, and managing editor Aileen Donnelly, as well as the author of the JNS piece, Joshua Marks.
National Post editors did not acknowledge any of CJPME’s complaints about the JNS, but Marks did, insisting that Israel abides by international law and blaming civilian casualties on Hamas.
“I couldn’t respond because I had to rush to a bomb shelter in Tel Aviv because genocidal Hamas terrorists in Gaza launched more of the 8,000 plus rockets at us since their mass slaughter of 1,400 Israelis on October 7,” Marks wrote in a Nov. 1 email to the CJPME supporters who complained.
“Israel […] works within the framework of international law and does everything possible to avoid civilian casualties who sometimes get hit because the Hamas war criminals commit war crimes by using them as human shields as they fire rockets at Israel from hospitals, mosques, schools and UN buildings in Gaza.”
“Maybe you should write about that.”
Military Claims Presented As Fact
It’s not just CJPME that has complained to Postmedia newspapers about JNS content being presented as news reporting.
Regina resident Sally Mahood wrote a letter to the Leader Post to express “disappointment and incredulity” that the paper ran a November 15 JNS article about Israel’s storming of al-Shifa Hospital. The article presented unsubstantiated Israeli claims that there was a Hamas command and control centre beneath the facility as fact, Mahood wrote.
The same 500-word piece also ran in the print editions of the National Post, Edmonton Journal, Calgary Herald, Montreal Gazette, Ottawa Citizen, Vancouver Sun, Vancouver’s The Province, Windsor Star, Saskatoon’s StarPhoenix and the London Free Press, according to the Canadian Newsstream database.
“Both the United Nations and human rights officials on the ground have denied these claims,” Mahood wrote. “The Jewish News Syndicate is clearly a partisan pro-Israeli outlet. Propaganda is not news.”
On November 24, a 450-word JNS story on the arrest of al-Shifa Hospital director Muhammad Abu Salmiya, which referred to “weapons and other terrorist infrastructure” inside the hospital, was reprinted nearly verbatim in the print editions of the Calgary Herald, Edmonton Journal, Kingston Whig-Standard, Leader Post, Montreal Gazette, London Free Press, Ottawa Citizen, The Province, StarPhoenix, Vancouver Sun and Windsor Star, according to Canadian Newsstream.
The piece was attributed to “National Post News Services” rather than solely JNS, due to the addition of remarks from Qatari government spokesperson Majed al-Ansari, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jihan Qanan, a resident of Khan Younis in southern Gaza regarding the temporary pause in fighting that began that day.
The Journal and Herald’s front pages teased the story with the headline: “Tunnel network uncovered: Hamas operating in, under hospitals.” On the Leader Post and Gazette’s front pages it was: “Gaza strip: Hamas tunnel network found under Al-Shifa hospital.”
During last month’s seven-day pause in fighting when Israel and Hamas swapped hostages, the National Post ran JNS content that repeatedly referred to the freed Palestinians — the majority of whom were children and/or prisoners who had not been charged with any crime — as “terrorists.”
Politics Of Wire Services
Karim H. Karim, a professor at Carleton University’s School of Journalism and Communication, told The Maple that understanding the “regimented” political uniformity of Postmedia’s newspapers requires looking back to the days when many of those newspapers were owned by Southam.
The company, which owned the Montreal Gazette, Calgary Herald, Edmonton Journal, Ottawa Citizen and Vancouver Sun, among other titles mentioned above, operated its own sort of wire service, through which newspapers across the chain were free to publish each other’s stories.
“It had its biases, of course, but it was a fairly respectable news agency,” Karim said.
In 1996, Southam was purchased by Hollinger Inc., the company founded by Conrad Black, and which owned the Chicago Sun-Times, Daily Telegraph and Jerusalem Post.
Black, who had a preference for running international news stories from the conservative Telegraph rather than AP or Reuters across the Southam papers, established the National Post in 1998 as a more dependably conservative alternative to The Globe and Mail.
In 2000, Southam’s papers were sold to CanWest, which was owned by former Manitoba Liberal Party leader and philanthropist Izzy Asper, who Karim noted “did not make any bones about having a very strong editorial position on specific issues, particularly Israel.”
“It was very clear that all the newspapers under [CanWest’s] ownership would run editorials written by head office in Winnipeg,” he said. “It was anomalous. It had never happened before under media concentration by various corporations.”
Montreal Gazette publisher Michael Goldbloom resigned in October 2001 to protest the company’s interference in the newspaper’s editorial decisions. This included forcing the Gazette to run an Aug. 11, 2001, unsigned editorial pre-emptively defending Israel’s aggressive response to a suicide bombing at a Jerusalem pizzeria. “Nothing is excessive in the face of an enemy sworn to your annihilation,” it read.
At the same time as it was forcing pro-Israel opinion onto the pages of its local newspapers, CanWest’s Winnipeg office suppressed critical voices.
In January 2002, head office quashed a column by Indigenous StarPhoenix and Leader Post columnist Doug Cuthand, who likened the plight of the Palestinians to Indigenous Peoples in Canada.
CanWest’s practice of replacing words like “insurgent” or “militant” with “terrorist” in wire stories on the Iraq War and Israeli-Palestinian conflict was criticized by AP and Reuters, with the latter asking in 2004 that the company refrain from publishing its reporters’ bylines for their own safety.
“Our editorial policy is that we don’t use emotive words when labeling someone,” Reuters global managing editor David A. Schlesinger told the New York Times.
“Any paper can change copy and do whatever they want. But if a paper wants to change our copy that way, we would be more comfortable if they remove the byline.”
An unsigned National Post editorial said wire services’ reluctance to use the “terrorist” label tainted their stories with the “misleading gloss of political correctness.”
After CanWest went bankrupt in late 2009, its newspapers were sold to the newly established Postmedia Inc., with the “residual effects” of Asper’s directives remaining under the new ownership, Karim explained.
In 2018, Postmedia senior management, in the words of journalist Sean Craig, ordered “all of its papers to shift to the political right, in an unprecedented, centralized fashion.”
But, Karim emphasized, ownership can’t control every single thing newspapers publish, since that would be too monumental a task. It does, however, set a “dominant discourse,” which is featured more prominently and frequently than alternative perspectives.
“The newsroom is a very complex place, with a number of editors, writers and other decision makers in terms of what gets into the newspaper,” said Karim. “You will see, obviously, different sources being used, but there’ll be pressure from above.”
“There will be certain dynamics, which will favour the use of JNS stories. It won’t be black and white.”
A good editor will “present a diversity of voices to their readership … which presents material from different perspectives,” he added.
“But if an editor sees that a source consistently marginalizes, or completely leaves out certain kinds of sources, then that’s a problem. Any journalist worth their salt would basically not run material from sources like that to ensure that their readership are getting good material.”
Jeremy Appel is an independent Edmonton-based journalist and the author of Kenneyism: Jason Kenney’s Pursuit of Power.
With a file from Alex Cosh.