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Concordia doc complies with codes, says CBSC

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CanWest Global Communications Corp.
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CBSC Decisions
OTTAWA - CanWest Global's documentary film "Confrontation at Concordia," did not violate any of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' code of ethics, says the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.

Martin Himel created a film, broadcast on Global Television initially on May 9, 2003 and other subsequent occasions, based on a September 9, 2002 incident at the Montreal university in which former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was prevented from speaking at Concordia thanks to street protests and the physical confrontation of the opposing sides. There were interviews with Netanyahu, Concordia University representatives, the vice-president of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights and the president of Montreal Hillel, among others.

Of a total of 19 complaints originally received by the CBSC, only four complainants requested adjudication by the CBSC's National Conventional Television Panel. "Although they collectively raised a variety of issues, their principal focus was on what the viewers described as the bias of the film, which documented the tense relations between the different factions in the then upcoming Concordia University Student Council elections. There was also mention of a comment made late in the program relating to anti-Semitism in Quebec," says this morning's press release

The National Conventional Television Panel, in fact, did not find that the documentary was "objective, dispassionate and even-handed" but it considered that there was no reason to expect that it ought to have been.

It was, the Panel explained, a "point-of-view documentary", with the consequence that "a viewer can expect from such a genre of film great latitude in the expression of the filmmaker's viewpoint and opinions, and even in the tone and style of presentation of that perspective." The Panel went on to distinguish this genre from traditional broadcast journalism:

"Accurate, comprehensive, fair and objective presentation is a hallmark of broadcast journalism. Documentary filmmaking, on the other hand, should not be inaccurate but it need not be objective. It is, in fact, an artistic genre of filmmaking. It will frequently carry the creator's name in a prominent way, since it can be expected to express his or her perspective on a subject. As a genre, it permits artistic licence, although that licence is not unrestricted. A point-of-view documentary is not false but it is the expression of the truth through the eyes of its creator. The truth is told as the filmmaker seeks to represent that truth. There is bound to be a significant element of subjectivity in the work. By techniques of video footage selection and judicious editing, the creator of the documentary film can be expected to manipulate the viewer since his or her goal is, after all, to either convince the viewer of the filmmaker's perspective or to, at the very least, stimulate discussion of the subject treated," the panel said.

It concluded that the filmmaker had expressed his point of view regarding the responsibility for the Concordia events without distortion: "in reviewing the [filmmaking] tools he [Himel] has used, the Panel finds no fault on his part," says the decision.

In responding to the complaint that accused the broadcast of a disparaging remark about anti-Semitism in Quebec, the Panel referred to the fact that it was a single, brief reference which was only the filmmaker's "warning of potential modern resurgence". It concluded that "the peripheral statement relating to historical anti-Semitic events in Quebec does not constitute unfair or improper comment, in violation of Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics."

For more, go to www.cbsc.ca.
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