BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Cumin and Discovery NZ Ltd - 2021-068 (13 October 2021)

Members
  • Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Paula Rose QSO
Dated
Complainant
  • Dr David Cumin
Number
2021-068
Programme
The Project
Broadcaster
Discovery NZ Ltd
Channel/Station
Three

Summary  

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

The Authority has not upheld a complaint about an item on The Project examining the history of violence and conflict between Israelis and Palestinians and ‘what’s different this time’. The complainant alleged the maps illustrating the dispossession of Palestinian land were inaccurate, minimised original Jewish land, minimised current Palestinian land, and perpetuated ‘lies that are used to delegitimise the State of Israel’. The Authority acknowledged that Israeli and Palestinian entitlement to land is a highly sensitive and contested issue. It found the maps contained some inaccuracies and the broadcaster had not made sufficient effort to ensure their accuracy. However, any inaccuracies were unlikely to significantly affect the audience’s understanding of the programme as a whole. In addition, the value in theexpression in the broadcast meant regulatory intervention was not justified in this instance. The Authority reminded broadcasters of the importance of accuracy and consistency when reporting on this issue.

Not Upheld: Accuracy


The broadcast

[1]  An item on The Project, broadcast on18 May 2021, included an interview between Kanoa Lloyd and Mike McRoberts which was introduced as follows:

For just over a week the world has been witnessing the worst violence between Israel and Palestinian territories in seven years. In Gaza, the death toll has risen to 198, including at least 58 children. And in Israel, 10 people, including two children, have died. Now, if you’re like me, you might be wondering, why does this keep happening and why does the Palestinian side always come off so much worse? Newshub's Mike McRoberts has reported from both sides of this conflict. I sat down with him to find out what's different this time.

[2]  During the interview, maps dated 1946, 1947, 1967, and 2021, were then displayed on-screen illustrating ‘Israeli land’ and ‘Palestinian land’. While these were displayed, the interview continued:

Ms Lloyd: Quite often I hear this described as a religious conflict. Is it?

Mr McRoberts: No, this is a conflict about land, but religion has always been the proxy for those disputes, but at the heart of it, it is all about land and what both sides want.

[3]  The interview continued:

Ms Lloyd: It sounds maybe a tiny bit colonise-y, a tiny bit familiar to me as a Māori person in New Zealand. Would that be fair or is it a totally different ballgame?

Mr McRoberts: I think people are looking at what's happening and asking questions about the control that Israel has over the Palestinians, the subjugation that they have of a population. And that's not good. It never is good again. You know, one of the worst things about this conflict is that there will be many, many more civilian deaths because of it. 

Ms Lloyd: Is this a fair fight? What's the difference between an Israeli air strike and a rocket being fired from Gaza?

Mr McRoberts: Well, they're both horrendous. And I've been on the ground on both sides when it has happened. So when Hamas is firing rockets into Israel, they are indiscriminate. They don't have targeting systems on them. And so you never know where they're going to land… On the other hand, of the equation, what the Israelis are doing, far more targeted strikes, they say, against Hamas leaders and what have you. We still don't see the evidence of that. But OK, if that is to be believed, they are firing these incredible ordnance into a very densely populated area. Gaza is tiny and there are two million people living in there. So if you do hit a building that has a Hamas leader in it, there's every chance you're going to hit a civilian building as well or there'll be some sort of spill over.

The complaint

[4]  Dr David Cumin complained the report breached the accuracy standard as the maps displayed were inaccurate:

  • The maps are well known to be misleading, and MSNBC apologised for using them in 2015, such that Discovery should also apologise.1
  • The inaccuracies of these maps have been well-traversed in MSNBC’s apology and on McGraw-Hill’s withdrawal of a college textbook that used similar maps.2
  • ‘Each map is inaccurate in itself. Political sovereignty is conflated with private ownership, British sovereignty is attributed to Palestinians, Jewish land is minimized in the first map, a plan rather than reality is shown in the second, and Palestinian land is minimised in the third and fourth maps.’
  • The intent of the maps is clearly ‘to falsely demonstrate an “ethnic cleansing” that did not occur, one perpetrated by the “coloniser" Jews upon “indigenous” Arabs. This is history revisionism that throws kerosene on a fire and perpetuates lies that are used to delegitimise the State of Israel’. In particular:
    • 1946: ‘[I]f the map is trying to depict land ownership then most of the territory was owned by the British government, if it’s political sovereignty, then the entire area was British’.
    • 1947: The map ‘shows the UN partition plan for the British Mandate’, which was ‘never a reality, only a proposal’. Also, it refers to ‘Israel’ when the modern state of Israel did not yet exist.
    • 1967: The map ‘labels an area as ‘Palestine’ even though the West Bank was occupied by Jordan at that time and Gaza was occupied by Egypt’ and there was no area called ‘Palestine’.
    • 2021: The map ‘shows “Palestinian land” apparently only including Area A, with no mention of the larger Area B sections.’
  • ‘There were no ‘Israelis’ in 1946 because the modern state of Israel had not been established. If The Project were meaning “Jewish”, which is what other activists using the maps have done, then they have made a gross error here.’
  • ‘Moreover, if they do mean Jewish, the map is still incorrect. It is actually a map of what the League of Nations in the 1920s predicted Palestine would be like in 1946… [A] UN map from 1950 that depicts the Jewish/Arab breakdown of land ownership in Palestine of 1945 would be more accurate’ and shows a vastly different reality, with a new category of land, “Public and Other”, the largest category of land at 47.8% (compared to 47.06% belonging to ‘Arabs’). ‘This is a rather large and important detail to leave out if one were not wanting to mislead.’

The broadcaster’s response

[5]  Discovery did not uphold Dr Cumin’s complaint for the following reasons:

  • ‘The graphic referred to Israeli land and Palestinian land – it was not intended to represent nations, rather it was intended to represent occupancy of land by each side and how that changed over time and to show the loss of Palestinian-occupied territory since the end of WWII.’
  • ‘…reasonable efforts were made to ensure the accuracy of the information conveyed and that the audience was not significantly misled by the information presented in the graphic.’
  • ‘We have not identified any material errors of fact in the broadcast and accordingly, have not upheld the complaint under this standard.’
  • The Project took care with this graphic to reference land held by groups rather than the graphic representing nations or territories.’
  • The Project team has advised that they made their own map based on a graphic of information on the creation of Israel and fact-checked the information it contained [on Al Jazeera]’.3

The standard

[6]  The accuracy standard4 states broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that any news, current affairs or factual programme 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.5

Our analysis

[7]  We have watched the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

[8]  We have also considered the right to freedom of expression, which is our starting point. This includes the broadcaster’s right to offer a range of content and the audience’s right to receive it. We may only intervene and uphold a complaint where the broadcast has caused actual or potential harm at a level that justifies placing a limit on the right to freedom of expression. For the reasons below, we have not found such harm in this case.

[9]  The accuracy standard is concerned only with material inaccuracy. For example, technical or unimportant points unlikely to significantly affect the audience’s understanding of the programme as a whole are not material.6

[10]   The audience may be misinformed in two ways: by incorrect statements of fact within the programme; and/or by being misled by the programme. Being ‘misled’ is defined as being given ‘a wrong idea or impression of the facts’.7 Programmes may be misleading by omission, or as a result of the way dialogue and images have been edited together, for example.8  

[11]  Overall, we found this programme was not likely to mislead viewers. We expand on our reasoning below.

Were the maps inaccurate?

[12]  We first considered the accuracy of the maps. There are a number of sources asserting the inaccuracy of maps similar to those used in the item.9 One publication10 suggests the second and fourth maps are materially accurate, (noting map two is based on the UN Partition Plan), and that the most important point about map one is ‘there was no such thing as Jewish land and Palestinian land: there was Mandatory Palestine, ruled by Great Britain’, while map three is ‘most damagingly dishonest’, not for inaccuracy of the distribution of land, but on the basis ‘the green is not Palestinian land: it is Jordanian land…and Egyptian land’.

[13]  We consider there is sufficient evidence to suggest the maps include inaccuracies, particularly the first map. However, the issues associated with the maps are complex. The standard requires the broadcaster to make reasonable efforts to ensure the accuracy of what is broadcast, so even if there are inaccuracies in the maps, reasonable efforts can mean the standard is not breached.

Reasonable efforts to ensure accuracy

[14]  Given our finding that the maps (particularly the first map) included inaccuracies, we next considered whether the broadcaster made reasonable efforts to ensure the accuracy of the maps. Our assessment of whether the broadcaster made reasonable efforts to ensure accuracy included consideration of the following:

  • The source of the material broadcast: In this case, the maps were based on those from an Al Jazeera publication.11
  • The maps are also consistent with those found on the website of The Diplomatic Mission of Palestine in Portugal.12
  • The broadcast was pre-recorded.
  • The issue of Israeli and Palestinian entitlement to land is highly contested and there was reason to exercise caution in the use of materials on this issue regarding their accuracy and provenance.

[15]  To an extent, the accuracy of these maps was not reasonably capable of being determined by the broadcaster, particularly in view of the absence of alternative maps, which have not been supplied by those who criticise the accuracy of the maps used. However, the broadcaster could have taken additional steps to ensure these graphics were more nuanced, to reflect a more accurate impression of the ownership or political sovereignty arrangements over time.

Did the programme mislead the audience?

[16]  In light of the above, we then turned to considering whether the programme would have misled the audience. The standard is not concerned with matters that are unlikely to significantly affect the audience’s understanding of the programme as a whole.13 Context can aid the consideration of whether an aspect of a broadcast is inaccurate.14

[17]  The following factors are relevant to our consideration of the impact of the broadcast:

  • The item was a general ‘explainer’-style report with Ms Lloyd interviewing Mr McRoberts about the context of the conflict, his experiences reporting on the conflict, and his views on the severity of the current violence.
  • The item was about 5 minutes long, with the maps appearing on-screen for approximately 15 seconds.
  • The maps were displayed on screen during the discussion but not referred to directly.
  • Following Mr McRoberts’ narrative about land disputes, Ms Lloyd suggested it was ‘a tiny bit colonise-y’, to which Mr McRoberts said ‘I think people are looking at what's happening and asking questions about the control that Israel has over the Palestinians, the subjugation that they have of a population’.
  • To analyse the maps to the degree the complainant has would be impossible for an ordinary viewer in the available time.
  • However, such visual depictions can be a powerful tool for conveying information, and the extent of Palestinian dispossession is an important feature of the discussion.
  • Mr McRoberts’ expertise in the subject would lead viewers to consider accompanying graphics to be reliable information.

[18]  The purpose of the maps was to illustrate the dispossession of Palestinian land, which is consistent with information from the United Nations:

  • ‘Sixty years had passed since the Arab-Israeli hostilities of 1948 which had led to the flight of some 800,000 Palestine refugees and the subsequent loss of their homeland, property and identity.’15
  • ‘The original Palestine refugees and their descendants, estimated to number more than 7 million, constituted the world’s oldest and largest refugee population. Some one third of those refugees continue to live in camps in Jordan, Lebanon, the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the Syrian Arab Republic. The living conditions of Palestine refugees were particularly deplorable in the Occupied Territory: refugees living in the West Bank had been subjected to the demolition of their homes and confiscation of their land, which had been set aside for the exclusive use of Israeli settlers. Some 38 per cent of the West Bank, which had once been intended to form part of a Palestinian State, was inaccessible to Palestinians.’16
  • ‘Israeli  settlements continued to  be  constructed  and  expanded  in the  Occupied Palestinian  Territory  despite  several  Security  Council  resolutions,  including resolution  2334  (2016),  declaring  them  illegal  under  international  law.’17
  • ‘Demolitions and confiscation of Palestinian property throughout the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem continued relentlessly, according to data collected by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.’18

[19]  Overall, while we consider aspects of the maps were not accurate, and the broadcaster could have taken greater care to ensure the accuracy of the maps, we found any inaccuracies were unlikely to significantly affect the audience’s understanding of the programme as a whole.

[20]  In addition, the value of the expression in the broadcast was substantial. It was an explanation of a complex, contentious issue in a way which was accessible and informative for viewers. Given this, regulatory intervention limiting the broadcaster’s freedom of expression is not appropriate in this instance.

[21]  However, this decision should remind broadcasters of the care required when supporting an expert’s views with graphics, especially in relation to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

For the above reasons, the Authority does not uphold the complaint
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Susie Staley
Acting Chair
13 October 2021

 

 


Appendix

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

1  David Cumin’s original complaint – 31 May 2021

2  Discovery’s decision on complaint – 23 June 2021

3  Dr Cumin’s referral to the Authority – 23 June 2021

4  Discovery’s response to the referral – 25 June 2021

5  Dr Cumin’s final comments – 1 July 2021

6  Discovery’s final comments – 23 August 2021

7  Dr Cumin’s additional comments – 14 September 2021


1 Raoul Wootliff “MSNBC apologizes for ‘completely wrong’ maps of Israel” The Times of Israel (online ed, 20 October 2015)
2 Sharona Shwartz “College Politics Textbook Includes Debunked Israel-Palestine 'Map That Lies' — and Publisher Responds” Blaze Media (online ed, 2 March 2016)
3 “Maps: Vanishing Palestine” Al Jazeera (online ed, undated)
4 Standard 9 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
5 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
6 Guideline 9b
7 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
8 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 19
9 “MSNBC apologizes for ‘completely wrong’ maps of Israel”, Times of Israel, 20 October 2015; “Misleading and Harmful: the ‘Palestinian Loss of Land’ Maps”, Presbyterians for Middle East Peace, 4 March 2014; “This map is not the territories”, The Economist, 14 March 2010
10 “Pro-Palestinian Ad in New York Make a Splash”, The Tablet, 13 July 2012
11 Zena Tahhan “Israel's settlements: Over 50 years of land theft explained” Al Jazeera, (online ed, 27 January 2020). Al Jazeera is a Qatar state-owned broadcaster. It is reported to be generally credible (with a reliability rating of 45.60 on Ad Fontes Media – where ‘scores above 24 are generally acceptable; scores above 32 are generally good’; and ‘medium credibility’ on Media Bias / Fact Check)
12 Diplomatic Mission of Palestine (30 April 2015) “Palestine, the Holy Land” <www.dmop.pt>
13 Guideline 9b
14 See, for example, Markula and MediaWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2020-144 at [14] and Collie and NZME Radio Ltd, Decision No. 2021-008 at [15]
15 Special meeting to mark 60 years of dispossession of Palestine refugees – CEIRPP – Summary record UN Doc A/AC.183/SR.309 (20 June 2008) at 3
16 As above, at 5
17 Report of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People UN Doc A/76/35 (1 September 2021) at 8
18 As above, at 9