External contribution

About journalistic ethics

Or how to send it to oblivion

It was at the end of March 2021 that the « affair » started with a letter sent to the CDJ (Council of Journalistic Ethics) protesting against the violation of ethics by the RTBF, accused of having broadcast propaganda films of the Israeli regime in the middle of the news.
This protest, which became file n° 21–19, was forwarded by the Secretary General of the CDJ to the Director of Information of the RTBF, who passed it on to one of his deputies, the « Head of Editorial « World » » », to reply.

Some of the statements made by the company’s spokesperson can be found below. Some are worth their weight in peanuts or cuberdons. The following testimony will help to discover or verify that seemingly apolitical or innocuous topics and themes can conceal practices that one would not expect to encounter in a public service institution. Finally, the epilogue will show that our country is indeed a country of consensus and that the « little arrangements » between colleagues are still relevant… And so much the worse if ethics are trampled by an organization that claims to defend them. 

Such candid little films

They were only three short reports (3′ each) broadcasted during the RTBF news. So it’s not a big deal.
Even if they glorify the Israeli regime?
What do you mean? Propaganda films on our national TV?

Didn’t you notice?
Normal, they didn’t really look like propaganda films.
They did not praise the effectiveness of snipers shooting at civilians in Gaza, they did not welcome ethnic cleansing operations and settlers, they did not cheer apartheid laws… None of this! They only talked about culture, humanitarianism and love of animals. Innocent little films at first glance, right?

The first one paid tribute to archaeologists of the« Israel Antiquities Authority » who, in a cave in the Judean desert, had discovered fragments of a parchment written more than two thousand years ago.
The second one praised the generous behavior of the Israeli authorities who offered a skateboard park to Palestinian teenagers in East Jerusalem.

The third one showed the development of a large wooded area to accommodate the mountain gazelles, the Dorcas, and thus save them from a certified imminent extinction.
With an emotional voice and not a little proud of the initiative, the person in charge of the operation declared in front of the camera  » It is the future of a species that is at stake here!  »

You really have to have an evil mind to criticize such moving little videos, don’t you?
Well… There was a catch.
These reports were either bogus or misleading, or both!
What! You dare to say that our television, the one I pay for with my money, has broadcast misleading films? Mensongers ? And no one checked before putting them on the air?
It is necessary to specify above all that these films were provided turnkey by an Israeli company, our national television intervening only for the presentation in French. The name of the supplier is not known, as RTBF refused to communicate it. As for the control of the veracity before broadcasting, obligation required for any journalist, we have no information either.
What we do know is that in his reply to the CDJ, the « Head of Editorial « World » » of RTBF defended these reports tooth and nail and certified, with the greatest energy, the objectivity of their content.

And if we take a closer look

The discovery of fragments of an ancient parchment, first of all.
Contrary to the comments of the RTBF locating this discovery in Israeli territory, it was made in the West Bank, in a cave in Nahal Hever to be precise.
In occupied Palestine then!
In its March 16, 2021 edition, the newspaper Le Monde confirms that it was indeed made « …in the part of the Judean desert located in the West Bank, a territory occupied by Israel since 1967  »

For the UN (Resolutions 2334 & 2347) and UNESCO (1970 Convention), this is nothing less than a plundering of heritage, considered a war crime by the ICC (International Criminal Court). We should also add that in a 2021 report, Amnesty International points out that  » The Israeli government and the settlers are using archaeology to reinforce their control over the occupied Palestinian territories.
But this is not at all, but not at all, the point of view of the RTBF delegate!
In his reply to the CDJ, he stubbornly supports the Israeli thesis and, to nail down anyone who dares to contest it, he finds nothing better than to invent a geographical neologism by locating the place of discovery not in Israel, but in Palestine…« in the middle of the 1967 border « .

No doubt about it, our flat country is indeed the kingdom of the zwanzeurs and the statement of this new expert in cartography deserves to appear in a future blooper… Borders for Dummiessection .

For the second film, a skateboard park offered to Palestinian kids in East Jerusalem by the Israeli government, the RTBF spokesperson, once again in perfect agreement with the Zionist point of view, states in his missive to the Council of Ethics:  » I can tell you that the subject is shot in the Old City and therefore in East Jerusalem.

He also guarantees that these teenagers are indeed Palestinians since « … They speak Arabic and, as the images show, came through the alleys of the old city.
that’s it! The pain in the ass just needs to shut up!

Unraveling a beautiful muddle

First of all, let’s note that the RTBF spokesman is perfectly right about the location of the skateboard park. It is well installed in the Old City of Jerusalem… More precisely in the so-called Christian quarter, on the roof of a large administrative building located between the Jaffa Gate and the Church of the Redeemer.

And as for the young athletes, he is still right, they come from the district known as the Maghrebins of this same Old City.
But there is a downside… A nice big downside!
Contrary to what he claims, this Old City is not in East Jerusalem, a theoretically Palestinian area, but is located in Israel… As decreed by the Zionist government some fifty-five years ago.

A little revision of the contemporary history course would have allowed the expert of Reyers Boulevard to verify that this neighborhood of Jerusalem was annexed in 1967 — an illegal annexation according to the UN of course — and that, in defiance of international laws, Begin’s government had this annexation ratified by a Basic law passed in 1980 in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament.

According to the regime in power there, this neighborhood is now part of the State of Israel, and the plan circulated by its administration indicates that it is beyond the Lions’ Gate — quite far from the Old City — that East Jerusalem is located, a territory that includes the neighborhoods of Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan.

The kids that the Israeli filmmakers make walk in front of the shops of Al-Wad street are simply teenagers citizens of the Israeli state… Not young people from East Jerusalem! One particularity, however, is that apartheid is a well-established practice there — the report Amnesty International’s report of February 1, 2022, is instructive in this regard — the regime has given them a special identity card calling them « Residents of the State of Israel ».
This identity card, of a different color than that of Israelis considered Jews, is issued by the army (!) and revocable without notice.
Citizens of the State
without being.

And this since 1967! More than half a century!
But the patented cartographer of our dear television is not dismayed for so little and, supporting the attempt of mystification of the Israeli propaganda service, declares, peremptorily, that the Old City is on the Palestinian territory… Na, it’s me who decides!
Did he really believe that no one would find out about the mix-up?

And a bonus, one!

In his stubbornness to defend at all costs the producers at the orders of the regime of Netanyahu, Bennett, Gantz and others, the RTBF delegate also « forgot » the testimony of Adel Trabelsi, one of the young skateboarders in the film.
In the JT of February 12, 2021, all happy to be able to practice his favorite sport, he explains  » There is no skateboarding area in East Jerusalem. There’s no room. »

Wouldn’t the editorial director of « Monde » watch his own TV news?
Does he also forget that the only Palestinians who can cross the checkpoints and enter Israeli territory are those who have a work permit?
This arbitrariness, regularly denounced by organizations involved in the defense of human rights, has resulted in the fact that, for example, the vast majority of the inhabitants of Bethlehem, a Palestinian town located less than 15 kilometers from the Esplanade of the Mosques, have never been able to set foot there… And this since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948!

Checkpoints? Where did you see checkpoints?

It seems that for the representative of our national channel, the denunciation of the oppression suffered by the Palestinian population is only a bunch of nonsense.
In his letter to the CDJ, he goes so far as to certify that there is not the slightest obstacle, not the slightest hindrance to the movement of Palestinians « Having been there two years ago, I did not come across any checkpoint to pass from East to West Jerusalem.

To fall off your chair!
Was he tipsy at the time of his visit?
Unless he believed that the military on duty at the gates of Damascus or Herod and those who control access to the Al-Aqsa mosque… Are they only there to give their machine guns a breather? Faced with such a lie, there is still humor… black humor!

We must save the little gazelles!

With the third film, we wade cheerfully into the zany.
The RTBF’s « Monde » editorial manager attests that  » These Dorcas gazelles are on the verge of extinction and Israel is one of the last countries where the antelope lives in the wild « .
Self-proclaimed protector of the fauna, he would end up giving bad conscience to a Gaia activist! Except that… Our « gazelle » specialist forgot to mention that these Dorcas live in the wild in the Sahel countries, in the Maghreb, in Egypt, in Ethiopia .… And even in the Arabian Peninsula! Their total number is estimated at 40,000, of which about 3,000 live in the Golan Heights, another territory illegally occupied by the Israeli army.

The ones in the film, about twenty of them, probably captured in the Golan, gambol fearlessly among the visitors of the Gazelle Valley Park located between Menachem Begin Boulevard and the Givat Mordechai fire station.

According to Tripadvisor, this small park of a few hectares is a popular attraction for tourists. Ah, the love of animals! It always works to draw a tear from the gogos!

Dear viewer, this emotional hoax has been graciously offered to you by RTBF!

And a cherry on the cake, one!

In addition to the cracks of the spokesman of the RTBF, a lawyer of the house made a virulent criticism of the behavior of the Secretary General of the CDJ!
It accuses him, no more and no less, of« personalizing » this complaint and thus exerting  » unnecessary pressure on RTBF workers » resulting in a« certain effect on their health and safety » with« an impact on freedom of expression and the right to inform » .

According to this distinguished lawyer, the Secretary General does not respect the ethics in use in the institution of the boulevard Reyers, institution which wants to be exclusively« A collective assuming the responsibility of the audiovisual contents which it produces and broadcasts ».
In other words, any direct criticism of journalists or managers of the RTBF company is forbidden! Faced with the average citizen, there are no human interlocutors, no responsible individuals, no faces… Only one façade, that of the building on Reyers Boulevard! 

Did this legal specialist draw his inspiration from Kafka’s The Trial?

Let there be no mistake, I am perfectly aware that these three short reports are to be classified in the news section, that they have no real importance for the information of the viewers.
And I am also well aware that my testimony will attract the dislike of certain notables of the audiovisual nomenklatura.

Anyway, I no longer have a career plan… and never did.
I am not a vigilante, Don Quixote or Zorro, nor do I have the slightest disposition for conspiracy.
I just shudder to think that this breach of ethics regarding films presented as candid, when they are obviously propaganda, is recurrent and applied to information of primary importance to our fellow citizens.
Since anodyne journalism does not exist, this lack of rigor seems to me to be condemnable.
It is all the more so when we see that those responsible for this « slip » are not « front-line » journalists — need I say that I have great admiration for the competence and uprightness of many of them — but senior executives of a public institution.

Since neutral words do not exist either, the denials of the RTBF representative about established facts and his unreserved alignment with the declarations of the Israeli propaganda services, lead one to ask a question: What if the broadcasting of these films was voluntary, if it was sanctioned by the management of the institute?

This would be a case of objective complicity with the regime currently in power in Israel.

And to say that this regime is extreme right-wing is redundant or a pleonasm. So, three small films can — perhaps? — reveal disturbing practices.

In his reply to the CDJ, the RTBF representative also tried to drag the complaint into a polemical by linking it to the drama that is taking place there.

If it is undeniable that I am sensitive to the persecution suffered by the Palestinian people and that this feeling is reflected in my words, the reactions of the RTBF delegate suggest, the word is weak, of sympathy for the regime currently in power in this country.

We certainly won’t be going on vacation together!

But the motivation, the heart of my protest, is not there… Absolutely not!

It is essentially in the fact that the control on the veracity of the contents was not realized before in the fact that the journalistic code of ethics was not respected!

This code which says in its first article « Journalists seek and respect the truth because of the public’s right to know it. They only disseminate information whose origin is known to them. They verify their veracity and report them honestly.« 
In another fundamental text of the CDJ, it is also written « Every journalist has a duty to disseminate verified information (…) the responsibility of journalists to the public takes precedence over their responsibilities to special interests, to the government and to their employers. »

Unfortunately, this is not the case here.

On the way to the epilogue!… Just kidding!

No sooner had the CDJ Secretary General initiated the process than a freelance journalist, a member of the CDJ Board, withdrew from the case.
This is quite unfortunate because this lady, linked to an association for the defense of the Palestinian people, is undoubtedly familiar with the situation and could have confirmed various points of the complaint.

Fear of having to contradict some of his colleagues? To get into trouble with them?

For its part, RTBF would have wanted to play for time and would not have done it any differently.
After several weeks of silence, it took a call from the Secretary General of the CDJ for us to learn, at the end of June 2021, that the RTBF had « confirmed that it had indeed not sent a new letter, as it had the option. The matter will therefore be reviewed at a future full meeting of the JSC.« 
Did the RTBF spokesman prefer to keep quiet to avoid what happened to Pinocchio’s nose?

Our waiting room is at your disposal!

And here we are in September 2021.
And here we are in October 2021.
And here we are in November 2021.
And here we are in December 2021… Nine months already since the beginning of the « affair ».

Ah! The time… Indispensable for achieving indifferent silence!

Time management is a well-known tactic in politics.
Its stretching allows to reach the point of insignificance of any sanction or repair. Is it this quest for obsolescence that is applied by the CDJ?
But no! Do you think!
You really have to have an evil mind to say that!
However, someone will have to explain to me how, with a board composed of about fifty members, active or substitute, and with modern technology (video-conferencing in particular), we manage to rule on, at best, four or five complaints per month… most of which were filed more than a year ago. A quick visit to the website of the CDJM, the French equivalent of our CDJ, shows that this institution handles eight cases per month… twice as many as the CDJ!

But that’s not all.
The waiting time for a file to be reviewed and an injunction to be issued by the French agency is… Two to three months, maximum!

Another visit to the website of the« Raad voor de Journalistiek », the Flemish « CDJ », reveals that it takes between three and six months to examine and decide on the complaints!

Revealing, isn’t it?

A reading of the JSC meeting minutes shows that there is very little, if any, likelihood that complaints will result in any remedial action.
After a year of waiting, or even more, the denounced facts necessarily go from « topicality » to « archives »… with the consequence that the injunctions of the CDJ have no effect.

And, when we know that it is since the creation of this CDJ (2009) that this procedure is applied, we can only deduce that it is reflected, voluntary.
Is it conspiracy to think that there is no other way to discourage whistleblowers?

It is also notable that the complaints considered by the Council appear to be selected on the basis of the reverse of the relevance of their content.
A simple reading is enough to see that some complaints are obviously unfounded with regard to the precepts of the CDJ. But they are still discussed at the monthly Council meeting… thus blocking the examination of more relevant complaints.

Don’t confuse saying and doing!

In addition to this « cooking among colleagues », we must also add the non-respect of injunctions.
What do you mean? Are there any who refuse to implement the decisions of the JDC?
Small example: at the end of a file (the 20–57), the CDJ enjoins the RTBF to publish a text on the homepage of its website.

It is necessary to literally search the site to end up finding it in a page… dedicated to the coronavirus. Another method is to publish the injunction on the CDJ’s website… a full week after the Council’s decision stating that it must be published within seven days.
Thus, a text concerning complaint 22–07, elaborated in session on March 23, 2022, is only published on April 5… on the CDJ website! What about the media involved?
Yes, that’s how it is, little average citizen, the seven days are over… No way to check!

This kind of practice, however, will not prevent the CDJ from stating in its « Recommendations on the Duty to Correct » the rectification must be rapid, i.e. without delay, as soon as the error is discovered and specifies that if this knowledge occurs too long after the error has been committed, the correction may lose its interest and relevance ».

And here we are in April 2022.
More than a year since the 21–19 complaint was filed.
And there is no chance that it will be reviewed before the summer… or fall!

After having been, for more than a year, confronted with the functioning of the CDJ, I am obliged to note that this « affair » will end, at best, by an injunction to the RTBF which one will perhaps be able to read, by looking well, on its Web site.
It is therefore better to lower the curtain on this sordid vaudeville.

Remembering that in 2021 the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to journalists Maria Ressa and Dimitri Muratov — she and he are the honor of their profession — it pains me to note that some of their colleagues in my country do not have the same approach to their function.
The hypocritical silence of the majority of the press on the fate of their colleague Julian Assange, rotting in a British jail, is a striking example of this sad behavior.

Profound changes in the composition and functioning of this Council of Journalistic Deontology seem to me to be indispensable for it to become a tool truly capable of enforcing deontology and reacting effectively against abuses.

At the end of this interminable path, that’s all I hope for.

Rudi Barnet

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