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Goffin and MediaWorks TV Ltd - 2014-123

Members

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga

Complainant

  • Lee Goffin of Southland

Dated

3rd December 2014

Number

2014-123

Programme

3 News: Firstline

Channel/Station

TV3

Broadcaster

MediaWorks TV Ltd


Summary [This summary does not form part of the decision.]

An item on 3 News: Firstline reported on the latest development in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Gaza Strip. The Authority did not uphold the complaint that the item was inaccurate and unbalanced, and anti-Israel. The reporter outlined the response from Israeli government officials to the incident, and also referred to both Israeli shelling and Hamas rocket firing, indicating that both sides bore some responsibility for the latest escalation of violence. It was not materially inaccurate to refer to Sderot as being ‘on the border of Israel and Gaza’ because a caption onscreen clarified it was in Israel.

Not Upheld: Controversial Issues, Accuracy


Introduction

[1]  An item on 3 News: Firstline reported on the latest development in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Gaza Strip. It was introduced as follows:

Scores of people have been killed in one neighbourhood in Gaza in what’s been the deadliest day so far of Israel’s offensive against Hamas. Thirteen Israeli soldiers were also killed. [Our reporter] is in Sderot on the border of Israel and Gaza and he filed this report.

[2]  The reporter outlined the day’s events and summarised the views of both the Palestinian President and Israeli government officials.

[3]  Lee Goffin complained that the item presented an unbalanced and inaccurate account of events, and was anti-Israel.

[4]  The issue is whether the item breached the controversial issues and accuracy standards, as set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[5]  The news item was broadcast on TV3 on 21 July 2014. The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the item and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Was the item sufficiently balanced?

[6]  The balance standard (Standard 4) states that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed in news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest. The standard exists to ensure that competing arguments are presented to enable a viewer to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.1

[7]  A number of criteria must be satisfied before the requirement to present significant alternative viewpoints is triggered. The standard applies only to news, current affairs and factual programmes which discuss a controversial issue of public importance. The subject matter must be an issue ‘of public importance’, it must be ‘controversial’, and it must be ‘discussed’.2

[8]  The Authority has typically defined an issue of public importance as something that would have a ‘significant potential impact on, or be of concern to, members of the New Zealand public’.3 A controversial issue is one which has topical currency and excites conflicting opinion or about which there has been ongoing public debate.4

[9]  The complainant’s underlying concern is that the item was pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel. Mr Goffin argued that no reference was made in the broadcast to the ‘constant and escalating bombardment of civilian centres of population in Israel from Gaza’, including the ‘bombardment’ suffered by Sderot. Nor did it report that the Israeli Army ‘sends messages to areas which are being targeted… [but] Hamas has counter-acted with messages for people to stay where they [are] and act as “human shields”,’ he said. Mr Goffin argued that the item provided no insight or balance on the ‘presence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza or deaths in Egypt related to Gaza tunnels and smuggling arms or any comment… about the visible appearance of [the Islamic State of Iraq] and their flags at Hamas demonstrations and funerals’.

[10]  MediaWorks accepted that the ongoing Israeli-Hamas conflict was a controversial issue of public importance. It said this story had a ‘legitimate and central focus, which was the events that occurred that day in the Gaza town of Shejaiya, namely the offensive by the Israelis that resulted in the deaths of Palestinians’. It considered that the reporter provided balance in the item by discussing both the Palestinian and Israeli points of view on the day’s events. It referred to the ‘abundance of information available in various forms of media’ on the region’s conflict.

[11]  We have previously accepted that the ongoing struggle between the Israelis and the Palestinians and specific incidents of violence are controversial and of public importance. There is no doubt that the conflict is of concern to members of the New Zealand public and has been the subject of ongoing debate in New Zealand society and within our political system.5

[12]  The issue therefore is whether MediaWorks made reasonable efforts to provide balance within the programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest, to enable viewers to reach an informed and reasoned opinion. We are satisfied that it did. The reporter outlined the response from Israeli government officials to the incident, as follows:

Israeli government officials say Shejaiya was a legitimate Hamas target. It said that Hamas had been not only been firing rockets from there but also making rockets there too. The officials also said that while they regretted the civilian casualties, they are the direct result of Hamas embedding the weaponry in residential areas. They also said that they had warned the people of Shejaiya for days to get out and that there was going to be an imminent strike.

[13]  The reporter also referred to both Israeli shelling and Hamas rocket firing, indicating that both sides bore some responsibility for the latest escalation of violence, saying:

There was a humanitarian truce in the area to allow thousands to escape and let medics attend to the critically injured. The ceasefire lasted for less than an hour before the Israeli shelling and Hamas rocket firing resumed. Both sides blamed the other for violating the truce.

[14]  It was legitimate and in the public interest to report on this incident and to keep viewers informed of the continuing violence in this area. The reporter gave a straightforward and balanced account of events and viewers were not misinformed by the omission of information which the complainant considered should have been included. We therefore find that the broadcaster provided balance in the programme and we decline to uphold this part of the complaint.

Was the item inaccurate or misleading?

[15]  The accuracy standard (Standard 5) states that broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming is accurate in relation to all material points of fact, and does not mislead. The objective of this standard is to protect audiences from receiving misinformation and thereby being misled.6

[16  Mr Goffin asserted that it was inaccurate for the presenter to say that Sderot was on the border between Israel and Gaza (see paragraph [1]), as it was in Southern Israel and ‘has suffered years of bombardment from Gaza’. He stated, ‘How [the reporter] could be in Sderot without making any reference to the constant bombardment of that particular town and other Israeli towns and cities is beyond belief’.

[17]  MediaWorks stood by the accuracy of the statement, saying, ‘a study of a map shows that Sderot lies one kilometre from the border of Gaza and the smoke from the offensive on Gaza can be seen in the background of the report from Sderot’.

[18]  We are satisfied that the presenter’s description of Sderot as being ‘on the border of Israel and Gaza’ was not materially inaccurate. While technically part of Israel, a map shows that Sderot is located very close to the Gaza border. In any event, the presenter’s statement was accompanied by a written caption which read ‘Sderot, Israel’, so viewers would not have been misled.

[19]  This was a brief news report and the presenter was not required to provide detail on Palestinian’s alleged ‘bombardment’ of Sderot. In any event, the presenter’s reference to Hamas ‘rocket firing’ (see paragraph [13]) indicated to viewers that both Israel and Palestine were using weaponry.

[20]  For these reasons, we are satisfied that the broadcast did not breach Standard 5, and we decline to uphold the complaint.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

Peter Radich
Chair

3 December 2014

Appendix

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

1                 Lee Goffin’s formal complaint – 21 July 2014

2                 MediaWorks’ response to the complaint – 27 August 2014

3                 Lee Goffin’s referral to the Authority – 19 September 2014

4                 MediaWorks’ response to the Authority – 17 October 2014

5                 Mr Goffin’s final comment – 3 November 2014

6                 MediaWorks’ confirmation of no final comment – 3 November 2014


1 Commerce Commission and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-014

2 For further discussion of these concepts see Practice Note: Controversial Issues – Viewpoints (Balance) as a Broadcasting Standard in Television (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2010) and Practice Note: Controversial Issues – Viewpoints (Balance) as a Broadcasting Standard in Radio (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2009)

3 Powell and CanWest TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2005-125

4 See, for example, Dewe and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-076

6 Bush and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2010-036