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Zarifeh, on behalf of the Wellington Palestine Group, and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2001-234, 2001-235

Members

  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • R Bryant
  • J H McGregor

Complainant

  • Helen Zarifeh on behalf of the Wellington Palestine Group

Dated

17th December 2001

Number

2001-234––235

Programme

One News

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint
One News – violence on the West Bank Israeli forces described as Israeli Security Forces – use of word security serves to legitimise occupation by Israel of the Occupied Territories – compromise said to be necessary for peace omits requirement on Israel to comply with UN resolutions – Jerusalem described as the capital of Israel

Findings
Standard G14 – Israeli security forces as a description not inaccurate – no uphold – the need for compromise an acceptable acknowledgment of reality – no uphold – description of Jerusalem as capital of Israel – not accurate – uphold

No Order

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] Events in the Middle East, including violence on the West Bank and the forthcoming election in Israel, were dealt with in items broadcast on One News on TV One at 6.00pm on 27 January and 9 February 2001.

[2] Helen Zarifeh for the Wellington Palestine Group, complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that aspects of the items were inaccurate and unbalanced. As a result, she wrote, the items, under the guise of objective news, advanced the political position of Israel and was damaging to the Palestinians.

[3] In response, TVNZ argued that each item had to be seen in the context of the events being reported. In view of the events described, it wrote that the items were accurate, objective and impartial and it declined to uphold the complaints.

[4] Dissatisfied with TVNZ's decision, Ms Zarifeh on behalf of the Wellington Palestine Group referred the complaints to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons below, the Authority upholds the aspect of the complaint where Jerusalem was described as the capital of Israel.

Decision

[5] The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the items complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaints without a formal hearing.

The Programmes

[6] Violence on the West Bank was dealt with in items broadcast on One News on 27 January and 9 February 2001, on TV One at 6.00pm.

[7] The item broadcast on 27 January, from the BBC, referred to the build up for the election in Israel and the Israeli forces were described as the "Israeli Security Forces". The report also stated that: "As yet neither side has offered the sort of compromise which is essential if there is to be peace".

[8] The forces were again described as the "Israeli Security Forces" in the item broadcast on 9 February. The report also described Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The Complaints

[9] By way of introduction, the Group wrote:

TVNZ seems determined to broadcast the extremist political position of Israel and the United States under the guise of objective news. This political position concerns the nature of the conflict in the Middle East. It is, as we have pointed out for years, both wrong and highly damaging to the Palestinians.

[10] In regard to the item on 27 January, the Group argued that the use of the word "Security" was unnecessary "and only served to legitimise the occupation of Israel". The correct term, the Group contended, would be the "Israeli Occupation Forces".

[11] Turning to the statement that "compromise is essential if there is to be peace", the Group labeled it as "glib", and furthermore, contended that it involved adopting Israel’s political position. Peace, the Group responded, would be achieved when Israel complied with the requirements of international law.

[12] The Group objected to the use again of the expression "Israeli Security Forces", in the item broadcast on 9 February, noting that it was used by a presenter and not as part of an overseas-sourced item. The Group also objected to item’s description of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Even the United States, the Group wrote, did not recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The Standard

[13] TVNZ assessed the complaints under standard G14 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. The standard reads:

G14  News must be presented accurately, objectively and impartially.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[14] Dealing first with the term "Israeli Security Forces", TVNZ maintained that as their role was to provide security for Israel and Israelis, the expression was "strictly accurate". The wording, it wrote, was no more emotive than the use of "liberation" in the Palestine Liberation Front.

[15] As for the statement referring to a need for compromise, TVNZ pointed out that it was made in the context of the then peace talks, and the coming Israeli election where one candidate had adopted a "hard line". TVNZ considered that the remark was acceptable in that context.

[16] In regard to the 9 February item, TVNZ said it again stood by the use of the term "Israeli Security Forces".

[17] In response to the complaint about describing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, TVNZ wrote:

It was the view of the Complaints Committee that it is the role of the news media to reflect reality. A capital is a seat of government, and there seems no question that the western part of Jerusalem is the seat of the Israeli Government. It cannot be denied that there is an Israeli Government. It cannot be denied that there is an Israeli Prime Minister. It cannot be denied that there is a Parliament (Knesset). They have made Western Jerusalem their seat of government. It may be illegal, but in reality Western Jerusalem is at this point Israel’s capital.

[18] TVNZ also noted that the expression was used by a BBC reporter and reflected the situation which he was reporting.

[19] TVNZ declined to uphold either complaint.

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[20] When it referred the complaints to the Authority, the Group wrote in regard to the term "Israeli Security Forces":

This is the kernel of the objection to the way the conflict is habitually portrayed by TVNZ. Israeli forces are preserving law and order - they are responsible for ‘security’. Ipso facto the Palestinians are breaching or violating ‘security’ - they must be the bad guys. We object to this repetitious use of the unnecessary and wrong adjective, especially so when TVNZ refuses to call them ‘Israeli occupation forces’ which is the accurate and distinguishing adjective.

[21] Moreover the Group said, the "Security" forces were not in the Occupied Territories to provide security for Israel and Israelis. The word "Security" was not emotive, the Group observed, but rather "inaccurate and unbalanced".

[22] Turning to the complaint about describing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the Group contended that international recognition was necessary for a city to be considered a country’s capital. That, it noted, was not the case with Jerusalem.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[23] With regard to the term "Israel Security Forces", TVNZ said that it understood that the phrase was used internationally "to describe the mixture of forces employed by Israel to protect its internal security". It added:

We note that the phrase explicitly links the forces to Israel implying, correctly we believe, that those forces act for Israel. When they are referred to they are shown to be in contrast to the Palestinians – which is surely the message the Wellington Palestine Group would wish to have broadcast?

[24] As for the description of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, TVNZ said that that reflected reality.

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[25] The Group pointed out in regard to the complaint about the use of the phrase "Israeli Security Forces", that it was not objecting to the use of the word "Israeli", but to the word "Security". The correct title for the forces, it said, were "Occupation" forces. The forces were operating, the Group maintained, "to secure the occupation of territory that is not Israel".

[26] As for describing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the Group said that hardly any country recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. In terms of international law, the Group contended, Tel Aviv was Israel’s capital.

The Authority's Determination

[27] There are three distinct matters for the Authority to consider when it determines these two complaints made on behalf of the Wellington Palestine Group. The complaints contend that the items were not accurate, objective and impartial when, first, they used the phrase the Israeli Security Forces, second, when they said that compromises were necessary for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, and third, when they described Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

[28] Dealing first with the term, "The Israeli Security Forces", the Authority acknowledges that the term might be used as the title of the forces, or it might be used as a description of the work carried out by a section of the Israeli Armed Forces.

[29] On the information before it, the Authority was of the view that the phrase could well be a description used by a journalist to summarise the activities carried out by a section of the forces. Accordingly, as it does not necessarily appear as a title for the section of the forces referred to, the Authority does not accept that the use of the phrase in the news item amounted to a breach of standard G14.

[30] Considering next the reference to a need for compromise, the Authority accepts that the item expressed the view that compromises were necessary by both the Israelis and Palestinians.

[31] The Authority acknowledges the Group’s contention that Israeli’s compliance with international law would, in itself, bring peace. However, given Israel’s attitude since 1948, such a decision by Israel is unlikely.

[32] Taking this point into account, it is inevitable that achieving peace will involve concessions by both the Israelis and the Palestinians. The process to peace will involve negotiation and, in these circumstances, the Authority concludes that the reference in the news to the need for compromise was not in breach of the standard.

[34] Turning to the reference in the item on 9 February to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, TVNZ advised the Authority that "there seems no question that the western part of Jerusalem is the seat of the Israeli Government". It added; "It may be illegal, but in reality Western Jerusalem is at this point Israel’s capital".

[35] The Authority points out that the item as broadcast did not describe "Western Jerusalem" as the capital, but "Jerusalem".

[36] The Authority understands that "Jerusalem", and especially what is known as the old city, is one of the central disputes – if not the main dispute – between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The Authority understands that most countries regard Tel Aviv as the capital of Israel because of the highly contentious nature of the status of Jerusalem.

[37] Given the importance of Jerusalem to both the Israelis and Palestinians, the Authority determines that a news item which, without qualification, describes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, is in breach of standard G14.

[38] In reaching this decision, the Authority records that it has considered whether the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression, as contained in s.14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, is unjustifiably infringed. The Authority is satisfied that its decision to uphold one aspect of this complaint is made under its empowering legislation. The Authority is also satisfied that the exercise of its power on this occasion does not unduly restrict the broadcaster’s right to express itself freely. Indeed, it considers that the upholding of this complaint is reasonable and demonstrably justified, owing to the contested status of Jerusalem, while still giving effect to the intention of the Broadcasting Act. In coming to this conclusion, the Authority has taken into account all the circumstances of this complaint, including the nature of the error.

 

For the above reasons, the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast by Television New Zealand Ltd of an item on One News on 9 February 2001 breached standard G14 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

It declines to uphold any other aspect of the complaints.

[39] Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may make orders under ss 13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. The Wellington Palestine Group has made efforts over the years to ensure that broadcasters are careful when reporting items about the Middle East. Having had this matter drawn to its attention, the Authority now expects extra care from TVNZ. It has decided not to impose a penalty on this occasion.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
17 December 2001

Appendix

The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:

  1. The Wellington Palestine Group’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 17 February 2001
  2. TVNZ’s Response to the Complaints – 14 March 2001
  3. The Group’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 11 April 2001
  4. TVNZ’s Request to defer consideration of the complaints pending the outcome of the appeal of Decision 2001-014 – 27 April 2001
  5. The Group’s request to reactivate the complaints – 5 October 2001
  6. TVNZ's Response to the Authority – 15 October 2001
  7. The Group’s Final Comment – 30 October 2001