Shareholders demand answers from CBS on Holy Land Christians program

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Click photo to download. Caption: Reporter Bob Simon on the recent "60 Minutes" Holy Land Christians program. Credit: CBS.

Four board members of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) attended the CBS May 24 shareholder meeting in New York, arguing that the television network had used distortions, omissions and factual errors on “60 Minutes” to present the Jewish state as an oppressor of Christians in the region.

In the controversial April 22 “60 Minutes” segment, reporter Bob Simon ignored a documented history of Muslim violence toward the Palestinian population in the West Bank, instead making it seem that Israel was entirely the culprit, critics of the program have said. Simon referred to Israel’s security fence as completely surrounding Bethlehem, “turning the ‘little town’ where Christ was born into what its residents call ‘an open air prison.’” In reality, the fence only arcs along the north, where it borders Israeli neighborhoods and does not surround Bethlehem; residents can move freely in and out along the entire south of the city.

Simon also claimed that the Christian population in the region has declined to less than two percent. As a percentage of the regional population compared to Muslims, Christians have, indeed, declined, but CBS failed to make clear that the Christian population inside Israel has grwon substantially. According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, 34,000 mostly Arab Christians lived in Israel in 1949, and by 2009 that number rose to 122,000.

Click photo to download. Caption: The CBS News logo. Credit: CBS.

Far from oppressing Christians, Israel provides a safe haven for them, according to Carol Greenwald, a CAMERA board member who spoke at the CBS meeting. The “60 Minutes” segment “apparently sought to undermine Christian support of Israel in the U.S,” she told JointMedia News Service. The statement describing the “little town where Christ was born” as an “open air prison” was truly incendiary, Greenwald said.

CAMERA owns shares of CBS stock. At the meeting, Greenwald and other CAMERA representatives sought to confirm that CBS News has an official policy of correcting errors on air. Since part of the meeting’s agenda was the election of directors, Greenwald got up and said that as a shareholder, she needed to know the position of each director on that policy issue. Les Moonves, the network’s president, interjected that he knew the CAMERA board members had a problem with “60 Minutes,” but pointed out that it is an award-winning program. Greenwald added that she was not addressing “60 Minutes,” but raising a question about the network’s adherence to a key ethical standard. Greenwald was then told she would receive an answer in writing.

The network’s general counsel said at the shareholders meeting that the “60 Minutes” segment received only 476 comments, and that half of them were positive. However, Christians United for Israel (CUFI) and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) identified about 33,000 complaints generated by their organizations, including at least 30,000 from CUFI members. Greenwald said that the CBS general counsel and its board should be concerned if CBS News management is giving them false information.

CAMERA board members also submitted written material documenting Muslim persecution of Christians in the region, as well as copies of CAMERA Executive Director Andrea Levin’s letter to the head of CBS News, Jeffrey Fager, calling for corrections of errors in the segment.

“The overarching message of the segment—that Israel is the source and cause of Christian misfortune and decline in the Holy Land—was false on many levels and suffered, in our estimation, from a striking unwillingness on the part of the segment professionals to grapple forthrightly with the full realities of an important story,” Levin wrote in the letter.

The CBS network did not respond to a request for comment from JointMedia News Service.

“I do believe the board was listening [at the shareholders meeting],” Greenwald said. 

Posted on May 31, 2012 and filed under News, U.S..