Use of “Polish” to Describe WWII Ghettos or Concentration Camps Breaches Codes, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, May 16, 2005 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning two news broadcasts in which the national adjective “Polish” was used to describe Second World War phenomena: in one case, a ghetto, and, in the other, the concentration camp at Treblinka.

In the first case, on November 8, 2003, the CTV Television Network broadcast the story of a Holocaust survivor during the course of which the following statement was made: “He was five years younger than his audience when his family was forced into a Polish ghetto for Jews.” In the second, on April 30, 2004, CTV Newsnet described John Demjanjuk as “a notoriously sadistic guard at the Polish camp of Treblinka.” In all, complaints were received relating to one or the other or both of the news items from 126 individuals, of whom the then Ambassador of the Republic of Poland, as well as another Canadian of Polish extraction, requested adjudication of the matter by the CBSC. The Ambassador put his complaint in the following terms:

The use of such words might leave doubts for Canadian viewers as to who created and operated ghettos in […] Nazi occupied Poland during WWII. There should be no doubt about it and any attempt to suggest otherwise is offensive to Poland and Polish people. […] There were ghettos for Jews in cities on the territory of Nazi occupied Poland, e.g. Warsaw ghetto, Lòdz? ghetto or Bialystok ghetto, established by the Nazi authorities.

Although the initial CTV position was that the adjective “Polish” denoted only location and not responsibility, the CTV News Department modified its position and, on August 18, issued a strong internal advisory in which it indicated that henceforth

CTV News programs must not use the adjective “Polish” when describing World War 2 concentration camps or ghettos that were created, built and run by Nazi Germany.

With respect to the broadcasts themselves, the National Specialty Services Panel concluded:

In any event, the Panel considers it essential to define its position on this issue. It concludes that the equivalent of the proper noun, or name, of a city is not the same as the national adjective “Polish”. Warsaw, Treblinka, Lòdz, Auschwitz, Birkenau, Bialystok, Chelmno and so on are, as place names, the equivalent of “in Poland” as a geographical designator. They do not imply an involvement in the matters occurring in those locations. They are the appropriate designation for a camp or a ghetto. [… W]hen using the phrase “in Poland”, it is preferable to differentiate traditional historical Poland from its wartime incarnation (it should never be forgotten that it was the Nazi invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939 that led to the declaration of war on Germany by Britain, France, Australia and New Zealand on September 3 and by Canada on September 10) by the use of qualifiers such as “in occupied Poland” or “in Nazi-occupied Poland”.

In any event, it is the position of the National Specialty Services Panel that the use of the terms “Polish ghetto for Jews” and “Polish camp of Treblinka” in news broadcasts on the dates indicated above was an inaccurate representation of the news and constituted an unfair and improper presentation of news […]

Canada’s private broadcasters have themselves created industry standards in the form of Codes on ethics, gender portrayal and television violence by which they expect the members of their profession will abide.  In 1990, they also created the CBSC, which is the self-regulatory body with the responsibility of administering those professional broadcast Codes, as well as the Code dealing with journalistic practices first created by the Radio Television News Directors Association of Canada (RTNDA) in 1970.  More than 550 radio and television stations and specialty services from across Canada are members of the Council. 

– 30 –

All CBSC decisions, Codes, links to members' and other web sites, and related information are available on the CBSC's website at www.cbsc.ca. For more information, please contact the CBSC National Chair, Mme Andrée Noël CBSC Executive Director, John MacNab