BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Wakim on behalf of Palestine Human Rights Campaign and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2003-052

Members
  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • J H McGregor
  • Tapu Misa
  • R Bryant
Dated
Complainants
  • David Wakim on behalf
  • Palestine Human Rights Campaign (PHRC)
Number
2003-052
Programme
Morning Report
Broadcaster
Radio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/Station
National Radio
Standards Breached

Complaint
Morning Report – presenter stated "To Israel […] and the streets of Bethlehem" – inaccurate

Findings
Principle 6 – implication that Bethlehem in Israel – inaccurate – uphold

No Order

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] On Morning Report broadcast on National Radio on 24 December 2002 at approximately 7.50am, the presenter stated "To Israel […] and the streets of Bethlehem…".

[2] On behalf of the Palestine Human Rights Campaign (PHRC), David Wakim complained to Radio New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the comment was inaccurate, as Bethlehem was not in Israel.

[3] In response, RNZ said that the item was not inaccurate, as there was no assertion on the part of the presenter, or in the item, that Bethlehem was in Israel. It maintained that the words "To Israel" were spoken by way of introduction to the item and referred to an upcoming interview with a correspondent from Israel.

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

For the reasons below, the Authority upholds the complaint.

Decision

[5] The members of the Authority have listened to a tape 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 Programme

[6] On Morning Report broadcast on National Radio on 24 December 2002 at approximately 7.50am, the presenter stated "To Israel […] and the streets of Bethlehem…".

The Complaint

[7] On behalf of the PHRC, Mr Wakim complained to RNZ that Bethlehem was not in Israel, that it was in the occupied territories and therefore, the presenter’s comment was inaccurate. It wrote:

It is most important that accurate and truthful representations of issues of Israel/Palestine are reported. This is a major inaccuracy and perpetuates Israeli propaganda in trying to portray parts of Palestine as belonging to Israel. To a huge number of people familiar with affairs in the Middle East this is a very grave error and amounts to distortion of the truth and is damaging to the Palestinians.

[8] PHRC advised that the broadcaster had immediately been notified of the error and had requested a correction to be aired, but it was subsequently advised that no such explanation would be made.

The Standards

[9] In view of the matters raised in the complaint, RNZ assessed it under Principle 6 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice which provides:

Principle 6

In the preparation and presentation of news and current affairs programmes, broadcasters are required to be truthful and accurate on points of fact.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[10] RNZ declined to uphold the complaint. In its view, the presenter’s comment was not inaccurate, as the first words "To Israel" were used by way of introduction to the item, to separate it from the previous item. In addition, it argued the "selective emphasis given to the sentence" referred to an upcoming interview with a correspondent from Israel, and "not the remarks which immediately followed." It continued:

… the following sentences did not make any positive assertion that Bethlehem was in "Israel", in fact it did not make any comment as to the whereabouts of Bethlehem.

[11] RNZ advised that it had reviewed the introduction and it considered that "two comments were made by way of an aside to the interview." First, in the context of it being Christmas Eve, when Christians celebrate the birth of Christ at Bethlehem, but the streets were deserted. Second, there was a review of the year regarding the Middle East conflict. The programme then featured the interview with the correspondent.

[12] RNZ maintained that there was a "distinct and definite pause" after the words "To Israel" to distinguish the item from the preceding one, before the presenter went on to say – "and the streets of Bethlehem…". It submitted that the word "and" was "used in a parenthetical sense" to introduce and link the information as background to the interview with the correspondent. RNZ contended it was not "incorrect to introduce the interview with Imigo Gilmore in this manner", as it was not disputed that he had spoken from Israel.

[13] RNZ concluded that Principle 6 had not been breached. However, it noted that "confusion could have resulted from the way in which the introduction was constructed." While in its view the introduction was not inaccurate, it accepted that some listeners may have misunderstood the nature of the interview to follow. It apologised, and advised that staff had been made aware of the "sensitive nature of the topic" being dealt with, the possibility for confusion, the internal guidelines, and the necessity to avoid such phrases in the future.

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[14] The complainant maintained that the introduction to the item was inaccurate, notwithstanding the "pause". In its opinion the correct reference should have been "To Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories".

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[15] RNZ cited a previous Authority decision (No: 1999-030 dated 19 March 1999) as a relevant precedent in the assessment of the present complaint. It submitted that the issue raised by the current complaint was identical to that raised in the earlier decision, namely, the introduction to the item referring to "Israel", and its meaning to listeners. RNZ provided that the current complaint was "further contextualised" given the reference to Bethlehem and that the broadcast was made on Christmas Eve.

[16] RNZ noted that the wording of the item was as follows:

"To Israel"

followed by a pause, and then the words

"and the streets of Bethlehem, the traditional birthplace of Christ are practically deserted these days, because of blockades, checkpoints and curfews imposed by the Israeli Army…"

"Another year has brought dozens more suicide bombings by Palestinians targeting Israelis, dozens more incursions into Palestinian areas by the Israeli Army in reply."

"Our correspondent Imigo Gilmore is about to take a well earned break from reporting the daily reality of tragedy and suffering, a job he says that’s becoming increasingly difficult."

[17] RNZ reiterated the submissions it had made to the complainant. It considered that the introduction "To Israel" signalled to listeners the end of the previous item and that an interview with an Israel-based correspondent was to follow. It restated that its approach to introduce the interview with the correspondent was not inappropriate, given that he had spoken from Israel. RNZ maintained that the "abbreviated headline" was not inaccurate, and that there was no assertion in the item that Bethlehem was in Israel.

[18] RNZ advised that in its reporting of numerous stories about Israel, it endeavoured to maintain standards of accuracy. It continued:

This and other similar complaints on this issue attempt to hold our live presenters to standards of painstaking exactitude
which would be more appropriate for the drafting of legislation or international treaties than for broadcasting.

[19] In addition, it explained that the requirement for accuracy did not mean that RNZ had to "record the views of one party to an argument" when using certain nouns.

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[20] In the complainant’s view, RNZ’s "justification for the language used" was an "insult to the intelligence and the sensibilities of the Palestinian people" and their New Zealand supporters. It wrote:

Obfuscation of the realities of geo-political entities of Israel and Occupied Palestine are indefensible. Nuances or asides are inadmissible and precise definitions should be the absolute minimum and the norm of accurate reporting. To suggest otherwise is catering to the attempts of Israeli propagandists to pass off Palestinian territory, in the minds of listeners, as Israel’s.

[21] While the complainant agreed that the presenter did not assert that Bethlehem was in Israel, it maintained that it was implied. It argued that "clear definitions" were of "critical importance and cannot be simply alluded to by nuance or contextual inference." In response to RNZ’s submission regarding "painstaking exactitude", the complainant argued that in terms of professional standards, such an expectation need not be onerous as it was "simply a matter of using accepted territorial nomenclature correctly".

The Authority’s Determination

[22] In the Authority’s view the presenter’s comment was inaccurate, because it implied to listeners that Bethlehem was in Israel. It accepts RNZ’s submission that the opening words to the item "To Israel" was an abbreviated headline used to introduce the item and distinguish it from the previous item. However, the Authority disagrees with RNZ that the introduction to the item attempted to set in context the interview with the Israel-based correspondent. The Authority considers that the use of the word "and" by the presenter had a conjunctive effect and does not accept that it was used in a "parenthetical sense", as argued by RNZ. In the Authority’s opinion, irrespective of the pause after the words "To Israel", the use of the word "and" clearly linked Israel to the streets of Bethlehem.

[23] The Authority does not consider that the precedent cited by RNZ is relevant to its determination of the present complaint. In that case, a news item complained about stated "In Israel…". The Authority distinguishes that case because the word "in" was used, which was subject to interpretation, and the ambiguity arising from the abbreviated headline was clarified within the broadcast of the full item. Despite RNZ’s contention that the present case was factually comparable to the 1999 decision, in the Authority’s view the abbreviated headline in the present complaint was unambiguous and clearly inaccurate.

[24] The Authority notes RNZ’s comments that it recognises the sensitive nature and the special care required when reporting issues that deal with the Middle East conflict. However, the Authority disagrees with RNZ’s submission that this complaint and others of this nature hold its presenters to "standards of painstaking exactitude". The Authority notes that a broadcaster is required to maintain standards of accuracy in news and current affairs programmes, which includes geographical accuracy especially when dealing with matters concerning the Middle East. Accordingly, it concludes that the presenter’s comment breached Principle 6 of the Radio Code.

[25] The social objective of regulating broadcasting standards is to guard against broadcasters behaving unfairly, offensively, or otherwise excessively. The Broadcasting Act clearly limits freedom of expression. Section 5 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act provides that the right to freedom of expression may be limited by "such reasonable limits which are prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society". For the reasons given in Decision No. 2002-071/072, the Authority is firmly of the opinion that the limits in the Broadcasting Act are reasonable and demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. The Authority records that it has given full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 when exercising its powers under the Broadcasting Act on this occasion. For the reasons given in this decision, the Authority considers that the exercise of its powers on this occasion is consistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act. In reaching this conclusion, the Authority has taken into account all the circumstances of the complaint.

 

For the reasons given above, the Authority upholds the complaint that an item broadcast by Radio New Zealand Ltd on Morning Report on 24 December 2002 was inaccurate and breached Principle 6 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[26] Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may make orders under ss.13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. Having considered all the circumstances of the complaint and the nature of the breach, the Authority does not consider that an order is appropriate.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
19 June 2003

Appendix

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

  1. Palestine Human Rights Campaign’s Formal Complaint to Radio New Zealand Ltd
    – 26 December 2002
  2. RNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 5 February 2003
  3. PHRC’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 26 February 2003
  4. RNZ’s Response to the Authority – 31 March 2003
  5. PHRC’s Final Comment – 17 April 2003