Wood and CanWest TVWorks Ltd - 2006-079
- Joanne Morris (Chair)
- Diane Musgrave
- Tapu Misa
- Paul France
- Carolyn Wood
BroadcasterCanWest TVWorks Ltd
Channel/StationTV3 # 2
Complaints under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
3 News – item on 13 June about a 12-year-old Palestinian girl after six members of her family were killed by a shell on a Gaza beach – item suggested that shell was Israeli which had been fired in response to homemade rockets fired from Gaza – allegedly inaccurate for using falsified footage
3 News – item on 14 June reported conflicting claims about who was responsible for the killing on the Gaza beach – denied by Israeli Defence Force (IDF) but Human Rights Watch said Israel was responsible – also included footage of another Israeli shell fired into Gaza which killed militants and innocent bystanders – allegedly unbalanced as it did not include evidence released by IDF
Standard 4 (balance) – significant views advanced about controversial issue of public importance – not upheld
Standard 5 (accuracy) – no evidence that falsified footage used – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 The survival of a 12-year-old Palestinian girl (Huda Ghalia) after six members of her family were killed by an explosion on a beach in Gaza, seemingly by an Israeli shell, was covered in an item broadcast on 3 News on TV3 beginning at 6.00pm on 13 June 2006. The item also showed the Israeli Army preparing shells and an Israeli navy missile ship firing shells at the Gaza shoreline “only hours before the tragedy”. It reported that shells were fired into Gaza to deter Palestinian militants from launching home-made rockets into Israel. A spokesperson for the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) explained “there is a war going on” and Israel was retaliating to rockets fired into their territory. The item reported that the IDF regretted the deaths of the family.
 In an item on 3 News at 6.00pm the following evening, it was reported that, after an investigation, the IDF denied firing the shell which was responsible for the deaths on the beach. It was also reported that Human Rights Watch, a human rights group, which had also investigated the incident, had concluded that the IDF was responsible.
 Carolyn Wood complained to CanWest TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, about the items which, she claimed, had been broadcast on 15 and 16 June.
 She said that the first item included a “fabricated sequence” which had been provided by Palestinian Television and which suggested that the family had been killed by a shell fired by the Israeli gunboat. The footage of an Israeli navy vessel firing shells off the coast of Gaza had been filmed by the Israelis, she said, and had in fact been released to the media by the IDF about an hour before the Gaza beach deaths. She wrote:
This unrelated footage was taken by Palestinian Television and spliced into the Gaza beach footage.
 Ms Wood said the “falsified footage” breached the broadcasting standards requiring accuracy as it was misleading and had been obtained from an unreliable source.
 Turning to the second news item, Ms Wood contended that it lacked impartiality and objectivity and reinforced the lack of balance apparent in the previous evening’s item. The item, she stated, was unbalanced as it did not outline the information released by the IDF to show that it was not responsible for the beach deaths.
 CanWest assessed the complaints under the standards nominated by the complainant. They provide:
Standard 4 Balance
In the preparation and presentation of news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards consistent with the principle that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed, reasonable efforts are made, or reasonable opportunities are given, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.
Standard 5 Accuracy
News, current affairs and other factual programmes must be truthful and accurate on points of fact, and be impartial and objective at all times.
Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant
 Advising that the items were in fact broadcast on 13 and 14 June, not 15and 16 June, CanWest did not accept that the items had given the Palestinian perspective a disproportionate amount of airtime and were unbalanced. It maintained that the Israeli perspective was fully explained.
 It also declined to uphold the complaint that the first item was inaccurate. The footage of the Israeli ship, it said, was included to explain to viewers that an issue had arisen in relation to responsibility for the deaths.
Referral to the Authority
 Dissatisfied with the response from the broadcaster, Ms Wood referred her complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
 Repeating her belief that the items were broadcast on 15 and 16 June, Ms Wood stated that CanWest had not dealt with the substance of her complaint that the first item was inaccurate because of the way in which the item had been put together.
 Ms Wood also maintained, contrary to CanWest’s argument, the second item was unbalanced as the IDF’s conclusions were not presented, and the item had led viewers to conclude that the responsibility for the Gaza beach incident lay solely with Israel.
 Ms Wood later supplied material from www.honestreporting.com which was critical of the media for using a “falsified media clip … in an attempt to blame Israel for the [Gaza beach] deaths”. It was alleged that an unrelated video clip of an Israeli missile boat, along with the sound of an ambulance siren, had been edited into news footage to make it appear as if the Israeli boat had intentionally fired on civilians.
Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority
 CanWest “categorically” denied that the footage it had screened was manipulated to meet an anti-Israeli agenda. The first item had not claimed that the gunboat was responsible and had stated in relation to the footage of it:
… this was an Israeli gunboat pounding the Gaza shoreline only hours before the tragedy.
 The second item, CanWest continued, informed viewers that two investigations into the cause of the family’s death had come to opposite conclusions.
 Noting that its Standards Committee was aware of issues about the manipulation of news footage, CanWest wrote:
As the Authority will know from its own experience the vast majority of reporters take very seriously their ethical obligations to report events accurately. Reputable news organisations defend their bona fides vigorously – this Committee believes that the Authority should be very slow to question the integrity of a world renowned news agency simply on the contention of a complainant who makes it clear (in the material that she submits) that she has some form of agenda in this regard. TV3 works hard and constantly to ensure the lack of any bias in its reporting and has ensured that across the continuing period of current interest in relation to these events the TV3 viewer has been informed of all significant points of view on the issues being considered.
 CanWest also forwarded the logs for 3 News on both 15 and 16 June to confirm that the items had not been screened on those date.
Complainant’s Final Comment
 While acknowledging that she might have been mistaken, Ms Wood said that the logs contained gaps and were inadequate evidence of CanWest’s claim that she had nominated incorrect dates. Contrary to CanWest’s contention, Ms Wood pointed out that she was not arguing that CanWest was anti-Israel. Rather, she had complained that CanWest had used footage falsified by Palestinian Television.
 Ms Wood agreed with CanWest that the item did not state that Israel was responsible for the deaths, but it had implied that it was. Again she pointed out that she was not asking for CanWest to determine responsibility for the deaths, but to acknowledge that it had used doctored footage without verifying its accuracy. Noting that all so-called reputable sources made mistakes, Ms Wood said that CanWest should have independently verified the footage before broadcast.
 The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcasts complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaints without a formal hearing.
 The complainant said that the days of the broadcasts were 15 and 16 June, while CanWest said that 13 and 14 June were the correct dates. It provided run sheets for 3 News on 15 and 16 June to show that the items were not broadcast on those days. Ms Wood questioned the adequacy of the run sheets. However, in view of the information provide by CanWest, the Authority accepts that the items were broadcast on 13 and 14 June.
Standard 5 (accuracy)
 The complainant’s allegation that the item contained falsified footage prepared by Palestinian Television was based on material from the website www.honestreporting.com. The website reported that Palestinian Television had “grafted earlier footage of Israeli naval vessels to footage of the beach victims”, and that audio of an ambulance siren had been added “to create the false impression that the boat was shooting at the same time as ambulances were present”.
 That material was not included in the 3 News item on 13 June 2006. When showing the footage of the Israeli naval vessel, the 3 News item clearly reported “This was an Israeli gun-boat pounding the Gaza shoreline only hours before the tragedy”. Nor did the audio of the navy vessel include an ambulance siren.
 It is clear, therefore, that the allegedly “falsified” footage referred to on www.honestreporting.com was not the footage broadcast by TV3. The Authority therefore declines to uphold the complaint that the item was inaccurate.
Standard 4 (balance)
 The Authority acknowledges that the item on 14 June dealing with the issue of responsibility for the beach deaths discussed a controversial issue of public importance. While not all overseas newsworthy events will amount to a controversial issue for the purposes of New Zealand’s broadcasting standards, the dispute between the IDF and the Palestinian militants in the occupied territories remains an ongoing issue of importance to the international community.
 The complainant argued that the item was unbalanced because it did not fairly present the view that Israel was not responsible for the explosion. The Authority disagrees. As it has noted on a number of previous occasions, it does not take a “stop-watch” approach to questions of balance. Instead, the balance standard requires that significant points of view are given, and it is the Authority’s view that the item achieved this.
 The item reported the Israeli Defence Minister saying that the IDF’s investigation showed that Israeli gun fire was not to blame, and the likeliest cause of the tragedy was an explosive placed on the beach by Hamas. The report then presented the countervailing view of an investigator from Human Rights Watch, who said his group believed an Israeli shell was responsible. While the Human Rights watch spokesperson was given more time to present his view, the Authority considers that the item made it clear that there were conflicting claims, and that the matter remained unresolved. Accordingly, it declines to uphold the complaint.
For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
19 October 2006
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
- Carolyn Wood’s formal complaints to CanWest TVWorks Ltd – 19 June 2006
- CanWest’s response to the complainant – 21 July 2006
- Ms Wood’s referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority (plus attachments) – 30 July 2006
- CanWest’s response to the Authority (plus attachments) – 31 August 2006
- Ms Wood’s final comment – 11 September 2006