BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Wellington Palestine Group and MediaWorks TV Ltd - 2018-053 (5 September 2018)

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Paula Rose
  • Wendy Palmer
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
Dated
Complainant
  • Wellington Palestine Group
Number
2018-053
Programme
Newshub
Broadcaster
MediaWorks TV Ltd
Channel/Station
Three

Summary

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

The Authority has not upheld a complaint that the use of the term ‘disputed’ in a Newshub item, to describe the land the United States (US) Embassy sits on in East Jerusalem, breached the accuracy standard. The broadcast covered a recent protest in Gaza over the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem and the US calling Jerusalem the capital of Israel. The Authority noted that the accuracy standard requires only that the broadcaster make ‘reasonable efforts’ to ensure the accuracy of the broadcast. In this case, the reporter used the term ‘disputed’ in the ordinary sense of the word, to identify the US Embassy’s location, which is the subject of dispute between Palestine and Israel. The Authority acknowledged the importance of terminology when reporting on the Israel-Palestine conflict, particularly when describing the status of the land that was the subject of this broadcast. However, on this occasion, the Authority considered that, while the term ‘disputed’ was not the most appropriate term available, it was not inaccurate to the extent requiring the Authority to intervene and uphold the complaint. The Authority noted that when locations of political and historical significance are described, broadcasters should endeavour to use terms adopted by internationally recognised organisations such as the UN.

Not Upheld: Accuracy


The broadcast

[1]  An item on Newshub covered the protest of 40,000 Palestinians in Gaza against the opening of the new United States (US) Embassy in East Jerusalem. During the item the reporter twice referred to the location of the Embassy as being on ‘disputed land’.

The complaint

[2] The Wellington Palestine Group complained that the use of the term ‘disputed’, in reference to the status of East Jerusalem, was inaccurate for the following reasons:

  • The accurate term to use in reference to the West Bank and East Jerusalem (where the Embassy is located) is ‘occupied’, as it is ‘Occupied Palestinian Territory’.
  • ‘The language of the United Nations (UN) and the International Court of Justice make it frequently and abundantly clear that the nature of Israeli presence in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Syrian Golan Heights is that of belligerent occupation and has continued to be so since 1967.’
  • A previous BSA decision found ‘geographic descriptions used by broadcasters can have a significant impact on the viewers’ understanding of, and views of, the conflict’.1

The broadcaster’s response

[3]  MediaWorks submitted the term ‘disputed’ clearly represented to viewers that the US Embassy in Jerusalem sits on land that is the subject of dispute. It submitted that, although the report did not expressly characterise Israel’s presence on the land as ‘occupation’, this was captured – and certainly not excluded – by referring to the land being ‘disputed’. MediaWorks said it consulted Newshub’s Head of News and he endorsed the broadcast’s use of the term.

Background

[4]  We find complaints such as this to be challenging, as they require the Authority to make assessments on sensitive issues which have international significance. We have therefore had regard to how the area has been described in the international context. The United Nations Security Council has referred to these areas as ‘Occupied Palestinian Territory’ in their Resolutions.2 A UN Resolution recorded the Security Council’s view that the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and other areas were taken by Israel through military occupation during the Six-Day War of 1967.3

[5]  The Israeli government uses the term ‘Disputed Territories’ in reference to these areas. They argue the area cannot be called ‘occupied’ as no nation had clear rights to it and there was no operative diplomatic arrangement when Israel acquired them in June 1967.4

[6]  In a recent 2016 speech made on behalf of New Zealand in the UN Security Council, the New Zealand representative referred to the area including East Jerusalem as ‘Occupied Palestinian Territory’.5

[7]  Finally, we note that in an Advisory Opinion titled ‘Legal consequences of the construction of a wall in Occupied Palestinian Territory’ the International Court of Justice referred to the ‘area in and around’ East Jerusalem as ‘Occupied Palestinian Territory’, citing Article 42 of the Regulations annexed to the Hague IV Convention which states: ‘Territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army.’6

Our findings

[8]  The accuracy standard places as an important limitation on the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression. It requires broadcasters to 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 being significantly misinformed.

[9]  This broadcast discussed an issue that had a high level of public and political interest. It covered the latest event in an ongoing conflict that has affected and continues to affect many people globally. When broadcasters cover events of international significance it is important they do so in a way that does not mislead or misinform the public.

[10]  We have previously considered similar complaints about the terminology used in broadcasts to describe the West Bank area. We noted the need for care when using adjectives to describe these areas, considering the historical and political connotations that are attached to the terms in question:7

We acknowledge that issues of geography in Israel and Palestine are particularly fraught, and the geographic descriptions used by broadcasters can have a significant impact on the audience’s understanding of, and views on, the conflict. Broadcasters must therefore be aware of, and sensitive to, the history and context of events in this region and take care with the geographical labels used during broadcasts reporting on these events.

[11]  We therefore acknowledge the importance of terminology in reporting on the Israel-Palestine conflict, particularly when describing the status of the land that was the subject of this broadcast. However, we also recognise that a wide range of terminology is used to describe this particular conflict.

[12]  In this case, we think the reporter used the term ‘disputed’ in the ordinary sense of the word, to identify the US Embassy’s location, which is the subject of dispute between Palestine and Israel, and that it was likely to have been received in this way by viewers. While there may be political connotations associated with the term, we consider that viewers were unlikely to be materially misled about the item as a whole, which focused on the protest and the resulting deaths that occurred.

[13]  Notwithstanding this view, as we have highlighted above, the United Nations appears to refer to this area as ‘occupied’. In the context of dealing with issues relating to international conflict, it was open to the broadcaster to adopt the terminology used by the UN, which is widely used and accepted.

[14]  Overall, we find that while the term ‘disputed’ was not the most appropriate term available, it was not inaccurate to the extent requiring us to intervene and uphold the complaint, limiting the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression. However, we consider that when locations of political and historical significance are described, broadcasters should endeavour to use terms adopted by internationally recognised organisations such as the UN.

[15]  Accordingly, we do not uphold this complaint.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

Peter Radich
Chair
5 September 2018

 

Appendix

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

1     Wellington Palestine Group’s formal complaint – 17 May 2018
2     MediaWorks’ response to the complaint – 15 June 2018
3     Wellington Palestine Group’s referral to the Authority – 30 June 2018
4     MediaWorks’ further comments – 16 July 2018

 


1 Wellington Palestine Group and MediaWorks TV Ltd, Decision No. 2016-048 at [12]

2 For example Resolution 63/30 of 2009 which states that ‘any actions taken by Israel, the occupying Power, to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration on the Holy City of Jerusalem are illegal and therefore null and void and have no validity whatsoever…’ Also Resolution ES-10/L.22 (United Nations General Assembly, 19 December 2017) is titled ‘Illegal Israeli actions in Occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory’.

3 Security Council resolution 242 (1967) of 22 November 1967 (also known as "land for peace" resolution).

4 Israel, the Conflict and Peace: Answers to frequently asked questions (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 30 December 2009.

For example: UN Security Council: The Situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question: Explanation of vote as delivered by Gerard van Bohemen, Permanent Representative of New Zealand to the United Nations (23 December 2016).

6 Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (International Court of Justice, 9 July 2004).