National Post | Aug. 18, 2004 | Mike Blanchfield

Poland demands Ottawa censure CTV over 'insult'

Broadcaster refuses to apologize after calling Treblinka a 'Polish' camp

OTTAWA - Poland has asked the Canadian government to take action against broadcaster CTV for refusing to apologize to viewers for referring to a Nazi German concentration camp in Poland as a "Polish camp."

In a letter to be sent to the Foreign Affairs Department today, the Polish government asks the federal government "to take appropriate actions to ensure that the dignity of the Republic of Poland, the ally of Canada in NATO, and the Polish nation is not affected by the untrue and detrimental information spread in Canada by the media."

The letter doesn't specify what the government should do but suggests that "for the sake of good relations that have existed between our two countries" it might want to consider unspecified action through the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, which licenses broadcasters.

The letter is the latest salvo in an international dispute between the Polish government and the Canadian private broadcaster. It centres over wording in televised reports in November, 2003, and on April 30, 2004 about convicted Nazi war criminal John Demjanjuk, a guard at the Treblinka concentration camp, operated by Nazi Germans in occupied Poland during the Second World War.

The April 30, 2004 story referred to Demjanjuk being a guard at "the Polish camp of Treblinka."

Poland's ambassador to Canada, Pavel Dobrowolski, demanded an apology and a correction from CTV News president Robert Hurst in a May 6, 2004 letter.

"This choice of words is offensive to the Polish people and the government of Poland. The concentration camp in Treblinka was created by the Nazi Germans, who invaded and occupied Poland during the WWII," Mr. Dobrowolski wrote. "Therefore, to call the concentration camp in Treblinka 'the Polish camp of Treblinka' is an insult to millions of Poles who sacrificed their lives in the fight against Nazi Germany."

In a May 28, 2004 letter, Mr. Hurst declined to apologize, saying the wording was not meant to insult Poles and the context of the report made it clear the camp was run by Nazi Germans in occupied Poland.

"We sincerely regret that you were offended and that you feel that the usage of this term is insulting to the Polish nation and to Canada," Mr. Hurst wrote.

The reference, Mr. Hurst explained, was "to denote the location of the camps, not the country or the people responsible for the same."

Mr. Hurst wrote that although he understood the concerns "and believes in the use of precise language, we believe the term was again used in an appropriate fashion."

Mr. Hurst could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The Polish government is not satisfied with CTV's response and wants the government to intervene.

Polish Foreign Affairs Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz is calling on CTV to issue a public apology, "in front of the same TV viewers who were exposed to this obvious insult that harmed not only the Poles of today, but the victims of the Holocaust as well."

Mr. Cimoszewicz said the exact words used in the report are important.

"It seems that the CTV executives are unaware that the only proper, internationally accepted and historians-verified term is 'the Nazi concentration camp in Germany-occupied Poland.' "

Demjanjuk, an 84-year-old retired autoworker, lost his U.S. citizenship bid in an Ohio appeal court in April, 2004. Demjanjuk is in ill health, but has not exhausted his last appeal avenue to the U.S. Supreme Court.

An Israeli court convicted him of war crimes and crimes against humanity for being a notorious gas chamber guard known as Ivan the Terrible. Demjanjuk has maintained he is the victim of mistaken identity.

Three days after Demjanjuk's court appearance, The Associated Press news service, which covered the news development, issued a clarification over how it referred to the Treblinka camp.

"The Associated Press referred to Poland's Treblinka death camp. The story should have specified that Poland was occupied by Nazi Germany in the Second World War, and that death camps in Polish territory were operated by the Germans," said a clarification issued on May 3, 2004 on the AP wire.

About 5.5 million Poles, including more than three million Polish Jews, died during the three-year Nazi occupation of Poland during the Second World War.

Six million Jews were systematically killed during the Holocaust.

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