BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Wellington Palestine Group and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 1996-186

Members
  • J M Potter (Chair)
  • A Martin
  • R McLeod
  • L M Loates
Dated
Complainant
  • Wellington Palestine Group
Number
1996-186
Programme
Morning Report
Broadcaster
Radio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/Station
National Radio


Summary

The opening of a tourist tunnel in East Jerusalem near Islam's third holiest site was

reported in an item broadcast by Radio New Zealand on Morning Report on 25

September 1996.

Helen Zarifeh, on behalf of the Wellington Palestine Group, complained to Radio New

Zealand Ltd that the broadcast was inaccurate because it implied that East Jerusalem

was in Israel when, in the introduction, the report about an event in East Jerusalem

stated "Now to Israel...".

Referring to the exact wording of the introduction, RNZ maintained that in the context

of the entire item, the meaning was clear. It argued that the first words did not apply

to the location of the reported incident, but to the decision by the Israeli government

about its course of action.

Dissatisfied with RNZ's decision, the Group 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

The members of the Authority have listened to a tape of the item complained about

and have read the correspondence (summarised in the Appendix). As is its practice,

the Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

A report about the reaction to the Israeli government's decision to open a second door

in a tunnel leading to the Al Aska Mosque was broadcast on Morning Report by Radio

New Zealand Ltd on 25 September 1996 between 7.00–9.00am. The Israeli

government's move had caused strong reaction among Palestinians. After the

introductory remarks, RNZ's Middle East correspondent explained why the

Palestinians objected to the opening of the second door in the tunnel, emphasising that

the Temple Mount was the third holiest site in Islam and Palestinians did not wish it

to become "Judaised". At the item's conclusion, the presenter announced the name of

the correspondent, and stated that he was in Israel.

The Wellington Palestine Group complained that the introduction to the item which

said "Now to Israel..." misled listeners into believing that the tunnel and the mosque,

which are in East Jerusalem, were in Israel.

When RNZ responded to the complaint, it maintained that as the item was concerned

with a decision made by the Israeli government, in Israel, it was not inaccurate to

introduce it by the phrase "Now to Israel...". It argued that there was no statement,

direct or implied, that Jerusalem was Israeli territory, and declined to uphold the

complaint.

In its referral to the Authority, the Group contended that as the item referred to an

activity in East Jerusalem, it was inaccurate to preface it by saying "Now to Israel...".

It accepted that the decision to open the tunnel was one made by the Israeli

government, but argued that that was not what the item was about. It maintained that

the item was concerned with events in East Jerusalem – the opening of the tunnel – and

the protest by Palestinians as a response to its opening. The Group believed that any

disinterested listener would conclude from the introduction that RNZ was reporting

about activities in Israel, and that the location of the tunnel at Jerusalem's Temple

Mount was also in Israel.

The Authority acknowledges the Group's frustration about what it perceives as a lack

of precision in the language used to introduce the item. It also understands RNZ's

argument that the item, concerning a decision of the Israeli government, was being

reported on by a correspondent in Israel, even though it concerned something which

was happening in adjacent territory.

In the Authority's view, the item was open to the interpretation claimed by the

Group but because it was ambiguous, it was also open to RNZ's analysis. Although

the Authority concludes that each interpretation is valid, it emphasises that

broadcasters must pay particular attention, especially when reporting on international

affairs to ensure that the information is both clear and accurate and that precise,

unambiguous language is used. On this occasion it concludes that the broadcaster did

not breach the requirement for accuracy.

 

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


Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Judith Potter
Chairperson
17 December 1996

Appendix


Wellington Palestine Group's Complaint to Radio New Zealand Ltd -

25 September 1996

Ms Helen Zarifeh, on behalf of the Wellington Palestine Group, complained to Radio

New Zealand about an item on Morning Report broadcast on 25 September 1996.

The item concerned a tunnel leading to the Al Aksa Mosque. Ms Zarifeh noted that

both the tunnel and mosque are in East Jerusalem, but that the announcer, when

introducing the item said "We go to Israel now" or words to that effect. The Group

wrote:

East Jerusalem is not in Israel, as we have pointed out to Radio NZ many

times before for reasons which we have also made quite clear.

RNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint - 11 October 1996

RNZ advised that it considered the complaint in the context of standard R1 of the

Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. It noted the exact wording of the introduction to

the item which stated:

...Now to Israel, where Prime Minister Netanyahu's government sparked a

maelstrom of protest by opening a tourist tunnel near Islam's third holiest site.

Palestinians have clashed with police after workmen under cover of night and

heavy police guard punched a second entrance through a stone wall to a tunnel

beside Jerusalem's Temple Mount. Palestinian President Yasser Arafat has

labelled the tunnel, or second door, a breach of the foundering Israeli-PLO

peace accord.

Mr Netanyahu's on a state visit to London, attempting to persuade western

leaders that he can broker peace in the region. Well, I spoke to our Middle

East correspondent Robert Berger, and asked why Mr Arafat's so upset about

what seems to be simply a means of getting more tourists to see the sights.

RNZ observed that the Group's complaint challenged only the first line of the story,

and concluded that it could therefore be assumed that the balance of the item was

satisfactory.

It then examined the first sentence of the item. It maintained that the first three words

"Now to Israel..." did not apply to the incident to be reported on subsequently.

Those words referred not to Jerusalem being Israeli territory, but to the fact that the

government whose decisions were being discussed was in Israel. It continued:

The first sentence goes on to say that this government action has "sparked a

maelstrom of discontent". The metaphor may be strangely strained, but the

meaning continues to be clear: there is not statement of Israeli territorial

possession.

The sentence concludes by saying exactly what action "sparked" the trouble:

the government caused a tunnel to be opened near Islam's third holiest site. At

this point the focus changes from the Israeli government coming to a decision

in Israel to a sharper focus on the event which has arisen from its decision.

RNZ concluded that there was no statement, direct or implied, that Jerusalem was

Israeli territory. It suggested that the end of the first sentence implied the opposite

and that that implication was strengthened by the rest of the item.

It declined to uphold the complaint.

The Group's Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority - 31 October

1996

Dissatisfied with RNZ's decision, the Wellington Palestine Group referred its

complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting

Act 1989.

The Group regarded the response as unsatisfactory. It wrote:

The item broadcast was about activity in East Jerusalem. The presenter said,

"Now to Israel". East Jerusalem is not in Israel. It is as simple as that.

Acknowledging that the decision to open the tunnel was made by the Israeli

government, the Group argued that where the decision was made was irrelevant, and

accused RNZ of sophistry. The item, it continued, referred to events occurring in East

Jerusalem. It concluded:

Any disinterested listener would conclude from the crucial first sentence of the

item that Radio NZ was reporting about activities in Israel. They would then

glean from the second sentence that the location within Israel was "Jerusalem's

Temple Mount".

RNZ's Response to the Authority - 21 November 1996

In a brief response, RNZ advised that it had nothing further to add to its letter of 11

October. However, it did not accept that its view of the item could fairly be described

as "sophistry".

The Group's Final Comment

The Group did not comment further.