BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Wellington Palestine Group and Television New Zealand Ltd - 1997-009

Members
  • J M Potter (Chair)
  • R McLeod
  • L M Loates
  • A Martin
Dated
Complainant
  • Wellington Palestine Group
Number
1997-009
Programme
One Network News
Channel/Station
TV One


Summary

A news item on One Network News on 30 October 1996 referred to an incident which

had occurred in Israel.

The Wellington Palestine Group complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the

broadcaster, that the reference was incorrect because it referred to an event which

occurred in the Occupied Territories and not in Israel.

TVNZ upheld the complaint that the item referred, incorrectly, to Hebron being in

Israel, when in fact it is in the Occupied Territories. It apologised for its error and

advised that the journalist concerned had been admonished and that a reminder had been

sent to all staff of the need for accuracy when describing events in the Middle East.

Dissatisfied with the action taken by TVNZ, 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 that the action

taken was insufficient.


Decision

The members of the Authority have viewed 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.

Coverage showing the violent protest following the death of a boy in Hebron on the

West Bank was included in One Network News broadcast by Television New Zealand

Ltd on 30 October 1996 between 6.00–7.00pm. The item was introduced by the

presenter who said:

Also in the Middle East. Violent protests have erupted in Israel after a young

Palestinian boy's funeral.


The item continued:


One person was injured in the demonstration near the West Bank town of

Hebron.


The Wellington Palestine Group complained that because the protest occurred in the

Occupied Territories this introduction was inaccurate and a breach of broadcasting

standards.

TVNZ considered the complaint under standard G14 of the Television Code of

Broadcasting Practice which states:

G14  News must be presented accurately, objectively and impartially.


TVNZ agreed that the word Israel was incorrectly used in the item. It acknowledged

that the reference was to Hebron, which is on the West Bank and should have correctly

been described as the Occupied Territories. It apologised for the error and advised the

steps it had taken as a consequence. First, it had personally admonished the journalist

concerned, and secondly, all staff had been reminded of the News and Current Affairs

Department's policy concerning Middle East politics. That policy reads in part:

...it is our policy to refer to those areas whose status is in dispute since they

were annexed in 1967 as "OCCUPIED TERRITORIES".


The Group referred the complaint to the Authority because it was dissatisfied with the

action taken by TVNZ. In its view, issuing a memo to staff would have little effect.

Furthermore, the Group argued, the memo itself was misleading, since the areas Israel

occupied in 1967 were not "in dispute" under the terms of international law, but were

"occupied". Recognising that it could not complain about the content of the memo, the

Group argued that nevertheless its inaccuracy indicated that TVNZ did not take its

responsibilities very seriously.

The Authority accepts that TVNZ has attempted to educate its staff about the

complexities of the Middle East's political boundaries and recognises that on occasions

mistakes may occur. The Authority considers that TVNZ took the appropriate action on

this occasion by upholding the complaint, and by re-emphasising to staff the importance

of accuracy when discussing events in the Middle East.

 

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


Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Judith Potter
Chairperson
13 February 1997

Appendix


The Wellington Palestine Group's Complaint to Television New Zealand

Ltd - 31 October 1996

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

Television New Zealand Ltd about an item broadcast on One Network News on 30

October 1996 between 6.00-7.00pm.

The item concerned an incident which the presenter stated occurred in Israel. In fact,

the Group pointed out, the incident occurred in the Occupied Territories.

It wrote:

We do not need to repeat how this lack of truth and accuracy violates the Codes

of Broadcasting Standards and is damaging to the Palestinians.

TVNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint - 18 November 1996

Having reviewed the item complained about, TVNZ advised that it agreed that the word

"Israel" was incorrectly used. It wrote:

The reference was to Hebron which is on the West Bank, an area which it is the

policy of TVNZ's News and Current Affairs Department to describe as the

Occupied Territories.

It upheld the complaint as a breach of the accuracy requirement of standard G14.

TVNZ apologised for the error and advised that it had admonished the journalist

concerned. In addition, all staff had received a message through the electronic

newspaper which appeared on their computers, which read:

Yet another reminder that we MUST be accurate in our description of events in

the Middle East. This has regularly come before the BSA, and we have assured

them that staff are aware of the need to be accurate. However a recent One

Network News story referred to the West Bank town of Hebron as "in Israel".

This inaccuracy breaches our policy.

For the record: it is our policy to refer to those areas whose status is in dispute

since they were annexed in 1967 as "OCCUPIED TERRITORIES". Please

read the enp "manual queue:mideast.

The Group's Referral to the Authority - 12 December 1996

Dissatisfied with the action taken by TVNZ, having upheld the complaint, the Group

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

Act 1989.

Acknowledging that the complaint had been upheld, the Group complained that the

memo to staff did not suffice as a remedy for the breach.

It also complained that the memo itself was misleading since the areas occupied by

Israel since 1967 were not "in dispute" but were "occupied" in terms of international

law, in particular the Hague convention. It added:

More clearly, Israel has not "annexed" this territory, except for East Jerusalem

and arguably the Golan Heights, which technically Israel has extended its

jurisdiction to.

The Group suggested that the memo, because of its inaccuracy, would only lead to

further mistakes on air, and indicated that TVNZ had not taken this complaint very

seriously.

It asked how many times did TVNZ have to get the borders of Israel wrong without

being compelled to accept some discipline.

The Group agreed that it accepted that:

TVNZ could not put a full explanation of a war situation into each and every

brief television news item.

However, it concluded, it did not mean that it accepted that TVNZ was providing

balance in its coverage on the Middle East.

TVNZ's Response to the Authority - 18 December 1996

TVNZ advised that it had nothing to add, save to observe that the Group seemed to seek

an assurance that errors concerning Middle East coverage would never occur again.

TVNZ was unable to give that assurance, but was able to assure that it would continue

to strive for accuracy and balance in all its news and current affairs coverage. Its view

was that TVNZ had achieved and maintained a very high level of competence in its

reporting.

The Group's Final Comment - 6 January 1997

The Group challenged TVNZ's claims of credibility and high standards, arguing that it

had yet to see it addressing its reporting deficiency on the Middle East in anything but a

cursory manner.

It argued that TVNZ had not only not met its obligations under the Act, but that its

action - issuing a memo and speaking to someone - was insufficient.

The Group advised that it had been concerned for many years about the media's bias in

favour of the Israeli position. It wrote:

TVNZ has refused to raise formally with its news suppliers overseas any

deficiencies in material they provide on the Middle East. With its own reporters

it still can not give accurate manual guidelines on what the facts of geography

and history are. We raised the difference between "disputed" and "occupied" in

correspondence of 26 May 1994, and on other occasions - TVNZ still has it

wrong in its manual.

TVNZ boasts that more people get their information from its news broadcasts

than any other source - a frightening prospect when considering what

perspectives on the Middle East are accordingly created in viewers' minds.

The Group concluded by urging the Authority to stand by an undertaking made on 20

September 1991 to "have little sympathy for the broadcaster".