A week before the National NewsMedia Council (NNC) dismissed a complaint about the National Post labelling allegedly editorialized pro-Israel content from the Jewish News Syndicate (JNS) as news rather than opinion, the newspaper appeared to temporarily stop publishing its content.

National Post editor-in-chief Rob Roberts told The Maple in an email that the Post’s decision to pause its running of JNS content was “unrelated to the NNC complaint,” but didn’t respond to a follow-up inquiry asking why the Post stopped publishing JNS articles.

On April 14 — two days after The Maple reached out to Roberts for comment — the Post published its first JNS piece in six weeks, a 120-word story on a seven-year-old Bedouin girl who was severely injured in Iran’s retaliatory missile strikes on Israel.

The Post published an 860-word JNS piece on April 16 about Israel’s plans to strike back on Iran on the front page of the physical paper. The article wasn’t published online.

The JNS wire service was founded in 2011 because its founders deemed the Jewish Telegraphic Agency — a Jewish wire service that has existed for more than a century — to be insufficiently pro-Israel.

Critics have characterized the JNS as “propaganda,” a “mouthpiece for the Israeli military” and a “pro-Israel think tank that produces hard-line opinions.”

Postmedia Called Out For Publishing Israeli Propaganda As ‘News’
Postmedia runs syndicated articles that are ‘basically a mouthpiece for the Israeli military.’

The Post ran JNS stories on a near-daily basis following the onset of Israel’s war on Gaza last October, with the last two stories published on February 27 before the unexplained pause.

One of the February 27 stories was headlined: “IDF detected that hundreds of Hamas terrorists switched to Israeli SIM cards ahead of Oct. 7.” The other was headlined: “Man who fought Hamas says Tinder, Hinge banned him after posting IDF uniform pic.”

The NNC released its decision on the complaint, which was filed by the advocacy group Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) back in December, on March 4.

While dismissing CJPME’s complaint, the decision suggested that the Post provide its readers with context about JNS when it runs articles from the service, which boasts of its “continuous pro-Israel coverage” on its website.

“[I]t is not the NNC’s mandate to serve as an editor or to dictate specific editorial coverage to any of its members, as that would undermine the editorial prerogative of news organizations and principles of press freedom that the NNC supports,” the decision reads.

Jason Toney, who filed the complaint on behalf of CJPME’s Media Accountability Project, told The Maple that the NNC’s scope is limited to specific articles, not broader trends in media, a limitation that he said renders the council ineffective.

“Anything that relates to balance over time, they essentially say that’s not their domain,” Toney explained.

Roberts, who is one of eight “professional members” of the NNC, told The Maple he recused himself from the complaint against the Post, as is standard practice when a council member has a complaint lodged against their media organization.

Toney said he doesn’t doubt Roberts’ recusal, but nonetheless finds it concerning that the Post’s editor-in-chief is involved with a “journalism ethics board, given [the Post’s] track record.”

According to the NNC’s list of decisions, there have been 10 complaints filed against the National Post since 2019, compared to four against the Toronto Star and six against The Globe and Mail.

In the same period, there were 11 complaints against the Toronto Sun, which is owned by Postmedia, the same parent company as the National Post.

Of these 31 complaints, just four — all against the Toronto Sun — were upheld while another eight — three against the Post, three against the Sun and two against the Globe — were resolved due to corrective action taken by the paper.

This means 18 out of 31 complaints, or 58 per cent, were dismissed.

The Complaint

Toney’s complaint centred on an October 16 article published on the National Post website as the death toll in Gaza reached 2,750. The article was headlined, “Here’s a list of key Hamas operatives killed by Israeli forces.”

The article’s lede paragraph read:

“In the wake of the mass murder perpetrated by the Hamas terror organization, whose death squads raided southern Israel and killed 1,400 Israelis on Oct. 7, while kidnapping 199 people, as confirmed by the Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson’s Unit on Monday, the IDF has been eliminating a growing number of Hamas terrorists.”

Toney argued that the use of phrases like “mass murder,” “death squads,” “eliminating” and “terrorists” indicated the article was a piece of opinion rather than news reporting. He also argued that the article lacked important context.

The NNC doesn’t have its own set of journalistic standards, instead deferring to what it calls a “cascading set of criteria,” which can include a news outlet’s own stated standards, “generally-accepted national and regional journalistic standards,” and the standards laid out by the Canadian Association of Journalists and Canadian Press, among other organizations.

The Canadian Press wire service’s news principles advise:

“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 JNS article, authored by Yaakov Lappin, made no mention of the Palestinian death toll, and focused instead on the number of rockets fired by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad into Israel, contrasting it with the relatively fewer, but far more fatal, Israeli airstrikes on Gaza.

“Additional Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror operatives currently unnamed have also been killed in some 3,600 IAF airstrikes,” the JNS piece read, citing the Israeli military as its sole source. “Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have fired 6,000-plus rockets at Israel.”

In the Post’s initial response to Toney’s complaint, dated January 11, the newspaper said it is “entirely comfortable labelling JNS news content as news – it may be from a particular perspective but is fact-based.”

The statement added that the publication labels articles accordingly when “we pick up opinion content from the provider.”

In a followup a week later, Toney noted that his complaint “goes beyond merely failing the fact-based standard (although there is ample evidence that JNS regularly fails this standard), but that it fails other fundamental standards regarding fairness, accuracy, balance, etc.”

On January 31, Roberts responded that “not every story a news outlet publishes is going to include all context that all readers might like to see,” adding that his newspaper supplements JNS coverage of the war in Gaza with other wire stories, including from the Associated Press and Reuters, “that provide more context of the nature you mention.”

In its decision, the NNC said that the October 16 JNS piece “did not display the characteristics of an opinion article in that it did not present an argument nor was it written as commentary,” but conceded that the article “may be viewed as written from a clear perspective.”

Regarding the language used in the JNS story, the council said it took into account “that the article was produced in the context of a rapidly-evolving and emotionally-charged environment,” recommending the Post “consider ensuring consistent language use across its content” and to avoid running single-source stories.

Commentary As News

The Postmedia chain has published JNS articles as news in papers across the country, including in the Ottawa Citizen, Montreal Gazette, Vancouver Sun, Calgary Herald, Edmonton Journal and Windsor Star, among others.

But Toney argues that Postmedia papers masquerade pro-Israel commentary as hard news by other means.

In order to launch an NNC complaint, those with concerns about a particular piece of content must first bring them to the attention of the publishing outlet’s editors. The NNC only reviews one complaint at a time per complainant.

In addition to writing in-house letters when a news article or segment violates what it considers to be journalistic principles of fairness and accuracy, CJPME’s Media Accountability Project sometimes sends out alerts to its followers, urging them to complain to the media outlet in question.

Similar tactics are used by the billionaire-backed pro-Israel media watchdog HonestReporting Canada.

Meet The Billionaire-Funded Pro-Israel Group Influencing Media
HonestReporting Canada is seeking to ‘control the narrative’ on Israel in Canadian media with the help of the wealthy and powerful.

On March 20 and 21, Toney wrote letters to Sun editor-in-chief Adrienne Batra and columnist Joe Warmington about two Warmington op-eds that were categorized as news, rather than opinion.

Toney said this mis-categorization stems from the Sun running these columns in its print edition’s news sections, with Warmington’s photo above his name intended to indicate that his articles are opinion columns.

The only visual indication online that the articles are op-eds is Warmington’s name appearing in all-caps before the headline.

On March 19, Warmington published an article about the passage of a watered-down NDP motion on Palestine, headlined, “As politicians grandstand in Ottawa, there are still hostages and hungry kids in Gaza.”

“Hamas, who have caused all of this carnage and misery, are still in control there and here. Even with their mass murder on record for all to see, Hamas learned late Monday they still have friends in the Canadian Parliament,” Warmington wrote in a column under the Sun’s “Canada” news section. 

“I hope I do not need to argue why this article should be labeled as an opinion. It must be obvious to any editor,” Toney wrote in his March 20 letter to Batra and Warmington.

The same day that Toney sent the first letter, the Sun published a Warmington column headlined, “Heckling of Jewish city councillor at soccer meeting a new low.” The article was about Councillor James Pasternak — a staunch supporter of Israel — being heckled by Pro-Palestine protestors. 

The article was placed in the Sun’s “Toronto & GTA” news section. 

“Whether it’s at a comedy club, restaurant, synagogue, school, basketball game, train station or even on the roadway, there seems to be a group of anti-Semites trying to make life a living hell for Jews,” Warmington wrote in the piece.

On March 21, Warmington posted both letters from Toney to Twitter with the caption: “Two days in a row.”

Warmington told The Maple he doesn’t recall receiving the letters from CJPME, but has no say over where his columns are placed in the physical newspaper or online.

“People know I’m a columnist, so I don’t know what the issue is,” he said in a phone interview.

Batra, the Sun’s editor-in-chief, did not respond to an emailed inquiry about how the Sun determines which opinion columns are categorized as opinion and which as news.

Speculation of Iranian Influence

Sun columnist and former Liberal strategist Warren Kinsella was the subject of a CJPME media alert for a March 20 article in which he speculated, without evidence, that pro-Palestine protests in Canada and elsewhere are funded and coordinated by the Islamic Republic of Iran, a state which has been under varying degrees of international and Canadian sanctions since 2007. 

“Who is writing the cheques for all the protesters and signs and the organizers and the websites? Police and intelligence agencies across Canada and the West are now working overtime to answer that question,” Kinsella claimed near the end of his column.

“In the meantime, this writer – and others – plan to follow the money. And most of us think the road will lead, ultimately, to the real Jew-hating Wizard of Oz: Iran.”

In a March 24 column headlined, “Israel haters have truth in their crosshairs after Oct. 7 Hamas attack,” Kinsella claimed he received “hundreds and hundreds of letters” in response to his column.

These “letters” were “using over and over (and tellingly) the exact same subject line. Using the same language and attack lines [sic],” Kinsella wrote. 

The piece does not name CJPME. Kinsella accused his critics of engaging in an astroturf campaign by “hiding the sponsor of the propaganda to make it look like a spontaneous and organic grassroots response to something.”

In a March 25 video with fellow Sun commentator Brian Lilley, titled “Protesters butthurt at Sun pointing out source of funding,” Kinsella claimed that the complainants were angry about

“The notion that everybody in the world accepts […] there is a coordinated and well-financed and organized propaganda campaign against Jews and the Jewish state, and it’s being financed, a lot of us feel, by Iran and Qatar, because that is the history here [emphasis added].”

“These people don’t like that suggestion and they’re really miffed every time we make it, so we plan to make that suggestion as often as possible,” Kinsella added, without elaborating on what history he was referring to, nor why he feels Iran and Qatar are funding protests in Canada.

Two days later, Kinsella continued accusing pro-Palestine protests of being the work of outside influence. 

In a column headlined “Many anti-Israel initiatives anything but grassroots efforts,” Kinsella called the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights’ City Council Palestine Organizing Toolkit a “secret plan” that was “leaked” to him.

As Toney and his colleague Rose Mardikian wrote in a March 27 letter to Kinsella and Batra, the document is publicly accessible as a Google Doc on the campaign’s website under its “resources” section. The document itself explicitly encourages viewers to “share this public guide.”

The Maple reached out to Kinsella to inquire what basis he has for believing Iran and Qatar are behind pro-Palestine protests, and whether he would regard HonestReporting Canada’s pro-Israel mass emailing campaigns as astroturfing. 

“Go fuck yourselves,” he responded.

Editor's note, Apr. 18, 2024: This story has been updated to note that the National Post published a JNS article on April 16 in its physical newspaper.

Jeremy Appel is an independent Edmonton-based journalist and the author of Kenneyism: Jason Kenney’s Pursuit of Power.