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Hart and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2003-099

Members

  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • R Bryant
  • Tapu Misa

Complainant

  • Deborah Hart of Wellington.

Dated

18th September 2003

Number

2003-099

Programme

One News

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint
One News item on Israeli attacks in Gaza – unbalanced and inaccurate

Findings
Standard 4 – balance achieved both in coverage on day and following days’ news coverage – no uphold

Standard 5 – item not inaccurate – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] Two Israeli attacks in Gaza were the focus of an item about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict broadcast on One News on TV One at 6.00pm on 11 June 2003. It reported that both attacks missed their targets, but had killed five and injured a number of Palestinians. The deaths, it was said, could set off another round of "tit for tat" killings.

[2] Deborah Hart complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item was unbalanced and inaccurate as it gave only the Palestinian perspective and suggested that the attacks had happened without provocation.

[3] In reply, TVNZ acknowledged that the item broadcast on 11 June had emphasised the suffering of the Palestinians. Nevertheless, it pointed out that another item on One News on 12 June, broadcast during the period of current interest, explained why one of the attacks covered on the 11 June item had occurred, and it also referred to the suffering of the Israelis after a recent attack by a suicide bomber.

[4] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Ms Hart referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Decision

[5] The members of the Authority have viewed a video of the programme complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing. The members have also viewed the items about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict broadcast on One News on 12 and 13 June, which were the two days following the broadcast of the item complained about. These items were provided by TVNZ.

The Programme

[6] An item broadcast on One News on 11 June 2003 described some of that day’s events in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. It referred to two Israeli rocket attacks in Gaza which failed to find their targets, but which had killed five and injured a number of Palestinians. The item reported that the attacks occurred six days after the "peace summit" in Aqaba, and the fears that the killings would set off another round of "tit for tat" killings in the Middle East.

The Complaint

[7] Deborah Hart complained to TVNZ that the item was not balanced, fair or accurate. As it gave only the Palestinian perspective, she wrote, viewers were left with a distorted view that the attacks had occurred without provocation. Ms Hart commented that the explanation given for the Israeli action omitted the challenging statements made by the Palestinian, Abdel Aziz Rantissi, who had been targeted, and also omitted any reference to the rockets which had been fired at Israeli targets in Gaza.

[8] Ms Hart concluded:

I believe the broadcast is a case of sloppy and lazy reporting at the least. The majority of the item was from a BBC report that was simply viewed as it was given with seemingly no independent verification and no thought to the necessities of the broadcasting standards to which all New Zealand broadcasters are meant to adhere. I am painfully aware that you work within tight budgets and therefore cannot have your own reporter in the Middle East, but surely TVNZ is better than this.

Standards

[9] In view of the matters raised in the complaint, TVNZ assessed it under Standards 4, 5 and 6 of the Free to Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. The Standards read:

Standard 4 Balance

In the preparation and presentation of news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards consistent with the principle that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed, reasonable efforts are made, or reasonable opportunities are given, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.

Standard 5 Accuracy

News, current affairs and other factual programmes must be truthful and accurate on points of fact, and be impartial and objective at all times.

Standard 6 Fairness

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are required to deal justly and fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[10] TVNZ said that while the item broadcast on 11 June emphasised the suffering of the Palestinians, it had also reported the determination of the Israeli Prime Minister to continue to fight against terrorism, and had explained that the rocket launch was an effort to strike at militant Palestinian leaders. TVNZ stated:

While the item did not restate at length the entrenched positions of both sides in this conflict, the allusions to the militant leaders and the fight against terrorism was, in the [complaints] committee’s opinion, sufficient to remind viewers of the core positions on each side. These positions have been revisited time and time again by news and current affairs items, and there is no need to repeat them every time a violent incident occurs.

[11] As for the requirement for balance in Standard 4, TVNZ said it allowed for balance to be achieved "within the period of current interest". An item on One News on 12 June, it continued, the day after the item complained about, showed the same reporter in Jerusalem reporting on the suffering of the Israeli people following a suicide bomber on a bus. That item, TVNZ added, included a strong denunciation of Mr Rantissi by an Israeli Government spokesperson.

[12] Referring to the items for the week, TVNZ maintained;

It was the [complaints] committee’s opinion that any fair minded viewer would see in TVNZ’s ongoing news coverage a balanced account of what has occurred in the Middle East conflict. Certainly on some days the emphasis has been on one side, but as frequently it has been on the other.

In addition the news programmes have given extensive coverage to international efforts to assist moves towards peace.

[13] TVNZ declined to uphold the Standard 4 aspect of the complaint. Moreover, it did not accept that the item was inaccurate and unfair and in breach of Standards 5 and 6.

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[14] Ms Hart referred her complaint to the Authority on the basis that the broadcast of the news item on 11 June breached the requirements in Standard 4 for balance, and Standard 5 for accuracy. She did not refer the Standard 6 aspect.

[15] In regard to balance, Ms Hart reiterated her concern that the news item, in suggesting that the Israeli attacks occurred without provocation, gave only the Palestinian perspective. The item, she wrote, omitted the reasons given by Israel for targeting Mr Rantissi, and omitted any reference to the attack by Palestinians on Israeli targets in Gaza City.

[16] Ms Hart maintained that the item on 12 June, while reporting the suffering of the Israelis, "did nothing to alleviate the impressions of the previous night of two unprovoked attacks". She continued:

Indeed if anything it created the view that the suicide attack was in reprisal for the unprovoked attacks the previous day. The next days reporting just repeated the simplistic view of as TVNZ puts it "tit for tat" reprisals, signifying what seems to be the TVNZ view that there is no reasoning for the attacks on Palestinian targets other than a generalized crack-down on militants and an upwards spiralling of conflict.

[17] As for the current interest argument raised by TVNZ, Ms Hart wrote:

Standard 4 applies when a "controversial issue of public importance is discussed". In its reply to my complaint, TVNZ contends that the controversial issue of public importance is the Palestine-Israeli conflict and the "period of current interest" therefore is "lengthy". To resolve that the issue is the Middle East conflict in its entirety and to then adjust the period of required balance to the whole of the conflict is to make a complete nonsense of the Standard.

[18] She added:

Balance is not achieved by showing how relentless, unreasoned and inevitable the attacks on both sides are. Balance is achieved by reporting on the attacks and reporting the participants’ version of those attacks. Achieving this gives the viewer the depth and information required to comprehend the news in a meaningful way. I believe when the standard is interpreted sensibly, it is clear that TVNZ failed on this occasion to provide the balance required by the standard.

[19] As for the requirement for accuracy, Ms Hart emphasised the difference between an unprovoked attack and a reprisal attack. The item was also incorrect to describe Mr Rantissi only as a Hamas spokesperson, as his roles were also that of a senior official in Hamas and a "significant militant".

[20] Ms Hart acknowledged that the item was provided by the BBC but she stressed that TVNZ, as the broadcaster, had the responsibility to ensure that the standards were not breached, and to use independent verification if necessary.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[21] TVNZ had little to add other than to point out that "both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cite provocation as their reason for their attacks on the other". TVNZ contended that its coverage of "this very long running and tragic event" had been "even-handed, fair and balanced".

The Authority’s Determination

[22] A One News item about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict broadcast on 11 June reported two Israeli attacks in Gaza. The Authority questions TVNZ’s suggestion that this item, which referred to "tit for tat" reprisals and the targeting of terrorists, was in fact unbalanced. Whether or not the item broadcast on 11 June was balanced, the Authority notes that items on 12 and 13 June reported retaliation and the on-going confrontation which had been predicted in the item on 11 June. These items provided balance to the one of 11 June, should that item be regarded as one-sided in itself.

[23] The Authority accepts that viewers – at least at a general level – are familiar with the background of the on-going Israeli-Palestinian confrontation and that it is not therefore necessary for each item to explore the details of the events reported or to provide the background beyond the use of broad brush strokes. The Authority is also aware that there are a number of people who are intensely interested in the conflict and, consequently, consider television news coverage in New Zealand to be somewhat superficial. Nevertheless, while the coverage may not explain the day-to-day events in any depth, the Authority does not regard this approach as necessarily a matter involving broadcasting standards. Issues involving balance, fairness and accuracy arise when the coverage reports a day’s events inaccurately or unfairly, or in a way that is unbalanced during the period of current interest.

[24] In view of its conclusions that the coverage on One News on 11 June was neither inaccurate nor unfair to the Israelis and, further, that balance was achieved during the period of current interest in regard to the specific events dealt with, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

[25] The Authority observes that to find a breach of broadcasting standards on this occasion would be to interpret the Broadcasting Act 1989 in such a way as to limit freedom of expression in a manner which is not reasonable or demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society (s.5 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990). As required by s.6 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, the Authority adopts an interpretation of the relevant standards which it considers is consistent with and gives full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

 

For the above reasons, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
18 September 2003

Appendix

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

  1. Deborah Hart’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 11 June 2003
  2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 25 June 2003
  3. Ms Hart’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 12 July 2003
  4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 25 July 2003