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Fletcher and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2016-022 (27 June 2016)

Members

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Paula Rose

Complainant

  • Graham Fletcher

Dated

27th June 2016

Number

2016-022

Programme

Worldwatch

Channel/Station

Radio New Zealand National

Broadcaster

Radio New Zealand Ltd

Summary

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

Worldwatch broadcast a three-part interview series with Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian legislator, described as ‘one of the most powerful women in the Middle East’ and ‘a forceful advocate for Palestinian self-determination and peace in the Middle East’. The Authority did not uphold a complaint alleging that the interviews amounted to support for terrorism, ‘[s]olely blame[d] Israel for all the Palestinian suffering’, and contained a number of inaccurate and misleading allegations about the Israel-Palestine conflict. The interviews did not contain several of the statements complained about, but were rather the complainant’s interpretation of what he considered Ms Ashrawi had implied. Other comments complained about were clearly Ms Ashwari’s opinion, to which the accuracy standard did not apply. The interview did not encourage the denigration of or discrimination against Israelis, but was rather a considered discussion about negotiations between Israel and Palestine that was not inaccurate, discriminatory, unfair or irresponsible.

Not Upheld: Accuracy, Discrimination and Denigration, Fairness, Responsible Programming


Introduction

[1]  Worldwatch broadcast a three-part interview series with Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian legislator, described as ‘one of the most powerful women in the Middle East’ and ‘a forceful advocate for Palestinian self-determination and peace in the Middle East’.

[2]  Graham Fletcher complained that the interviews amounted to support for terrorism, ‘[s]olely blame[d] Israel for all the Palestinian suffering’, and contained a number of inaccurate and misleading allegations about the Israel-Palestine conflict.

[3]  The issue is whether the broadcasts breached the accuracy, discrimination and denigration, fairness, and responsible programming standards of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.1 Dr Fletcher did not specify which standards applied to which parts of his complaint, so we have attempted to address them under the standards which seem most appropriate to his arguments. In our view the accuracy and discrimination and denigration standards are the most relevant so we have focused our determination accordingly. We briefly address the remaining standards at paragraph [20] below.

[4]  The items were broadcast on Radio New Zealand National on 2, 3 and 4 February 2016. The members of the Authority have listened to recordings of the broadcasts complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Were the broadcasts inaccurate or misleading?

[5]  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]  Dr Fletcher argued that the following aspects of the broadcasts were inaccurate or misleading:

  •  The programme host ‘failed to challenge the premise that legitimate resistance includes  attacking pregnant women with knives, murdering parents in front of their children, attacking  babies, or killing the elderly’.
  •  The programme gave ‘no hint that the Palestinians are responsible for any part of their plight’. Dr  Fletcher argued they do have responsibility.
  •  Ms Ashwari said that there are ‘no female Israeli negotiators that take decisions’, but Dr Fletcher  argued that in fact Israel’s Chief Negotiator (Tzipi Livni) is a woman and there are other Israeli  women negotiators.
  •  Ms Ashwari referred to ‘the apartheid wall’. Dr Fletcher argued that in reality this is ‘no different  to many other walls or fences erected to protect civilians from cross-border attack or infiltration’,  and that the wall ‘prevents [Israelis] from being murdered’.
  •  Ms Ashwari said, ‘Israel has all the power’. Dr Fletcher argued that ‘the reality is that Israel  maintains certain controls based on agreements worked out in negotiations with the Palestinians’  and that ‘the Palestinians receive far more aid per capita than any other people and yet through  corruption and diversion to terrorist activity, only a small proportion of the funds helps the  Palestinian people.’
  •  Ms Ashwari said that ‘settlements are the barrier to peace’. Dr Fletcher argued that ‘no new land  has been acquired for the past 15 years; the “growth” of settlements is in the number of people  and some buildings’.

[7]  RNZ argued that the statements from Ms Ashrawi that Dr Fletcher alleged to be inaccurate were ‘her own comments and opinion’ and so were not subject to the accuracy standard. It also pointed out that, subsequent to the interviews with Ms Ashrawi, it broadcast and published a series of conversations with Yosef Livne, Israel’s ambassador to New Zealand, which it considered addressed any allegations of bias.

[8]  As to the first two bullet-pointed statements of Dr Fletcher’s arguments at paragraph [6] above, Ms Ashrawi did not say that ‘legitimate resistance’ includes ‘attacking pregnant women with knives, murdering parents in front of their children, attacking babies, or killing the elderly’. Nor did the programme suggest that Palestinians bear no responsibility for the conflict. We note the host made comments such as, ‘How can you ever hope to resolve anything with Israel when there are so many issues unresolved within Palestine?’ and suggested that Palestinian attacks against Israelis ‘stymied any kind of peace process’. We did not identify any statement or implication to the effect alleged by these two bullet points, and do not consider that Standard 5 was breached in these respects.

[9]  As to the third bullet point, Dr Fletcher cited Tzipi Livni, who was formerly Israel’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians, in support of his argument that it was inaccurate to state there are ‘no women negotiating or taking decisions’. This comment was not in our view a ‘material point of fact’ to which the accuracy standard applied, but rather an aside, and would not have significantly affected listeners’ understanding of the segments overall.

[10]  Ms Ashwari’s actual statements in relation to the third and fourth bullet points were:

  • ‘The wall that has been built is a horrible apartheid wall.’
  • ‘We [Palestine] are a people under occupation. They [Israel] have tremendous power and we don’t have any.’

[11]  We did not identify any statements from Ms Ashwari that ‘settlements are the barrier to peace’, but accept that the interviews may have implied that this was her stance.

[12]  Guideline 5a to the accuracy standard says that it does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment, or opinion. The last three bullet-pointed statements (about an ‘apartheid wall’, Israel having ‘all the power’, and Israeli settlements being a ‘barrier to peace’) were, in our view, all clearly distinguishable as Ms Ashrawi’s analysis, comment, or opinion. As such they were not required to be accurate.

[13]  Accordingly we do not uphold the complaint under Standard 5.

Did the broadcasts encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, Israelis as a section of the community?

[14]  The discrimination and denigration standard (Standard 7) protects against broadcasts which encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, any section of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, occupational status, or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religion, culture or political belief.

[15] Dr Fletcher argued that the programme host should have asked Ms Ashrawi if she condemned recent terror attacks by Palestinians in the Israel-Palestine region, and his failure to do so evidenced support for terrorists. He also said that ‘[Ms] Ashrawi seems to yearn for the day when Jews are banned and their holy sites desecrated once more’. Dr Fletcher also took issue with Ms Ashwari saying that she had ‘little hope for peace because of the extremism in the surrounding area, including Syria, and the extreme views of Israeli leaders’, which he said amounted to an ‘appalling’ ‘comparison of Israel with ISIS’.

[16]  In our view, that the programme host did not ask Ms Ashrawi if she condemned recent terror attacks cannot be said to amount to encouraging discrimination against, or the denigration of, all Israeli people. Additionally, Ms Ashwari did not state that she ‘yearned for the days when Jews were banned and their holy sites desecrated’, and we are satisfied that the programme did not imply this.

[17]  Ms Ashwari’s statement about religious extremism was in response to the programme host’s question, ‘Are there any hopes at all for 2016 in the peace process?’ She said:

...I’m not really hopeful at all. Because we see things regressing, deteriorating... regional realities, whether it’s in the Arab world – look at Syria, look at Libya, look at Iraq, look at Yemen, and you see what’s happening. And then you see the rise of extremism and ideology and religious absolutism, not just in the Muslim world, but look at Israel. They are talking about a Jewish state and they are talking about holy books and they are talking about absolute power. So when this is the kind of language prevailing, and when violence is prevailing, it’s very hard to see any hope of, any chances of, a peaceful resolution.

[18]  Guideline 7a says that Standard 7 is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material that is a genuine expression of serious comment, analysis, or opinion. In our view, these statements did not equate Israel to ISIS, but were instead a comment on what Ms Ashwari termed ‘religious absolutism’ among religious extremists, in both the Muslim and Jewish faiths. Additionally, we do not agree that these comments were meant to apply to all Israelis, but rather to Israel’s political leaders, whom Ms Ashwari considered are becoming more extreme.

[19]  We are satisfied that the broadcast did not contain anything that encouraged listeners to discriminate against, or denigrate, all Israelis as a section of the community, and we therefore do not uphold the complaint under Standard 7.

Did the broadcasts breach any other broadcasting standards?

[20]  Dr Fletcher also complained that the broadcasts breached the fairness and responsible programming standards, but did not make specific arguments in relation to these standards. These standards were either not applicable or not breached because:

  • Dr Fletcher did not identify any individual or organisation he believed was treated unfairly (Standard 6).
  • The item did not raise any matters of responsible programming, which typically deals with warnings and whether broadcasts are acceptable for children who may be listening. Dr Fletcher did not allege there should have been a warning for the interviews or that they were unsuitable for children (Standard 8).

[21] Accordingly we do not uphold these parts of the complaint.

Other issues

[22]  Dr Fletcher also took issue with a number of Ms Ashwari’s previous statements, ranging over a period of about 16 years. For example, he alleged that she ‘is explicitly against co-existence and dialogue with Israelis’. He said that RNZ ‘gave a total of almost 60 minutes of airtime to [Ms] Ashwari without raising this “controversy”’.

[23]  We cannot consider this part of Dr Fletcher’s complaint because it concerns material outside of the broadcast items specified. RNZ’s decision to feature interviews with Ms Ashwari was a matter of editorial discretion, not broadcasting standards, though we note that RNZ also broadcast and published a series of conversations with Israel’s ambassador to New Zealand. We also note, as an aside, that the interviews comprised around 20 minutes of airtime, not 60 minutes as alleged.

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich

Chair
27 June 2016

 

Appendix

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

1      Graham Fletcher’s formal complaint – 11 February 2016

2      RNZ’s response to the complaint – 10 March 2016

3      Dr Fletcher’s referral to the Authority – 31 March 2016

4      RNZ’s response to the referral – 2 May 2016


This complaint was determined under the previous Radio Code, which applied up until 31 March 2016. The new Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook took effect on 1 April 2016 and applies to any programmes broadcast on or after that date: http://bsa.govt.nz/standards/overview

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