Tonight – item on papal visit to Jerusalem – reference to Israel – inaccurate
Standard G14 – reference ambiguous – implicitly included area beyond Jerusalem – no uphold
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
A news reporter presenting a report on the papal visit to Jerusalem described himself as being in Israel when the scene depicted showed he was in East Jerusalem. The item was broadcast on Tonight on TV One at 10.30pm on 23 March 2000.
On behalf of the Wellington Palestine Group, Ms Zarifeh complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the description was inaccurate, as she maintained that East Jerusalem was not in Israel.
In its response, TVNZ said the reference to Israel in the item was not inaccurate, although it conceded that the reporter’s description did not conform to its house style. It declined to uphold the complaint.
Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Ms Zarifeh referred the Group’s complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
For the reasons given below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the item complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. On this occasion, the Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
An overseas sourced item on Tonight broadcast on TV One at 10.30pm on 23 March 2000 concerned a papal visit to Jerusalem. During the item, the reporter, who was at that time reporting from East Jerusalem, said that "those who live here in Israel care little about the visit".
Helen Zarifeh on behalf of the Wellington Palestine Group complained that the item was inaccurate. She contended that the reference to Israel was incorrect and "damaging to Palestinians for reasons we have been giving you for almost 20 years."
Ms Zarifeh contended that the merging: "of both sectors of Jerusalem with each other and with Israel is of course perfectly in accord with Israel’s position that there is no legal difference between the parts."
In conclusion, Ms Zarifeh maintained that:
"TVNZ regularly misrepresents the legal sovereignty of territory in the Middle East. It would be easy to caption West and East Jerusalem separately, with East Jerusalem described as "Occupied East Jerusalem" to clearly indicate that it was not part of Israel."
TVNZ assessed the complaint under standard G14 of Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which reads:
G14 News must be presented accurately, objectively and impartially.
TVNZ noted that an internationally known reporter had compiled the report for CBS. While it agreed that the reference to Israel in the terms in which it was made by that reporter was not in line with TVNZ’s editorial policy, it said that:
common sense suggests that there are times when it is worth running material compiled by journalists overseas, even when that material contains style elements which are different from those employed by TVNZ’s own staff.
On this occasion, the item… was a personal observation of the people in Jerusalem and because it was personal in nature, it was not the sort of item that could be "voiced over" by a presenter or reporter on this side of the world.
In TVNZ’s view, the story was "non-political, non-judgmental and comprised a very general look at the teeming centre of a religious crossroads." It added that the story was not an "historical valuation" of the Israeli actions, and did not discuss or assess the political status of the divided city. Furthermore, TVNZ noted that "nowhere in the item was it stated that East Jerusalem is legally part of Israel."
At worst the use of the word "Israel" was ambiguous, but used in an item which was intended to provide context to the Pope’s arrival at the Yud Va Shem Hall, it did not… amount to a breach of standard G14.
TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint.
When she referred the Group’s complaint to the Authority, Ms Zarifeh described the response as "totally inadequate". She described it as "yet another example of a constant portrayal of occupied Palestinian territory as Israel."
Ms Zarifeh considered that TVNZ had suggested that the fact the item was presented by an internationally known reporter justified what she called the "error", and commented that "the more authority a mistake has, the more impact that mistake carries."
Ms Zarifeh went on to disagree strongly with TVNZ’s contention that the item was non-political. She observed that the misrepresentation continued "the constant repetition of a false political message on TVNZ programmes over the years."
In its response to the referral, TVNZ commented that it had acknowledged that the item did not conform to TVNZ’s house style, but did not consider that this amounted to a breach of standards. It also commented that if it had not shown the item, viewers would have been deprived of an insightful personal observation by a reporter on the spot. It reiterated that common-sense suggested the item be broadcast despite the variance with TVNZ house style.
In her final comment, Ms Zarifeh reported that the Wellington Palestine Group was "at a loss to understand" how TVNZ could justify its lapse in broadcasting standards as a breach of house rules.
Ms Zarifeh also noted that all the suggestions made by her group to TVNZ to improve the standard of its Middle East reporting had "fallen on deaf ears".
The Authority’s task is to determine whether the reference to Israel complained about was inaccurate, impartial or lacking in objectivity. In order to assess the complaint, the Authority considers it helpful to consider first what the item was about. The item was an overseas sourced report about the reaction of people in Jerusalem to the Pope’s visit, and to the many faiths of the people living in the area. The Authority records that in its view, the item was not about the political status of Jerusalem.
The Authority also notes that, although the item was an overseas sourced report, TVNZ had identified the location as "Jerusalem" in a caption it had superimposed onto the report at the beginning of the item.
Against this background, the Authority does not consider that the reporter’s reference explicitly or impliedly represented that East Jerusalem was part of Israel. Although the Authority acknowledges that the reference was potentially ambiguous due to the visuals of East Jerusalem which accompanied the reporter’s voiceover, it considers that, most viewers would have understood that his comment pertained to a much wider area than just East Jerusalem.
The Authority observes that the story was sourced from a reputable United States news organisation. It notes that conventions in style when referring to areas in Jerusalem are not the same in New Zealand as for that news organisation. While the broadcast of material from overseas sources does not excuse a broadcaster from its responsibilities to comply with broadcasting standards, the Authority does not consider that the item contravened standards on this occasion, for the reasons set out above.
For the reasons set forth above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
20 July 2000
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaints:
1. Helen Zarifeh’s Complaint to TVNZ – 26 March 2000-05-29
2. Television New Zealand Ltd’s Response to the Complaint – 20 April 2000
3. Ms Zarifeh’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority– 7 May 2000
4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 24 May 2000
5. Ms Zarifeh’s Final Comment – 6 June 2000