Wellington Palestine Group and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 1996-186
- J M Potter (Chair)
- A Martin
- L M Loates
- R McLeod
- Wellington Palestine Group
BroadcasterRadio New Zealand Ltd
The opening of a tourist tunnel in East Jerusalem near Islam's third holiest site was
reported in an item broadcast by Radio New Zealand on Morning Report on 25
Helen Zarifeh, on behalf of the Wellington Palestine Group, complained to Radio New
Zealand Ltd that the broadcast was inaccurate because it implied that East Jerusalem
was in Israel when, in the introduction, the report about an event in East Jerusalem
stated "Now to Israel...".
Referring to the exact wording of the introduction, RNZ maintained that in the context
of the entire item, the meaning was clear. It argued that the first words did not apply
to the location of the reported incident, but to the decision by the Israeli government
about its course of action.
Dissatisfied with RNZ's decision, 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.
The members of the Authority have listened to a tape of 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.
A report about the reaction to the Israeli government's decision to open a second door
in a tunnel leading to the Al Aska Mosque was broadcast on Morning Report by Radio
New Zealand Ltd on 25 September 1996 between 7.00–9.00am. The Israeli
government's move had caused strong reaction among Palestinians. After the
introductory remarks, RNZ's Middle East correspondent explained why the
Palestinians objected to the opening of the second door in the tunnel, emphasising that
the Temple Mount was the third holiest site in Islam and Palestinians did not wish it
to become "Judaised". At the item's conclusion, the presenter announced the name of
the correspondent, and stated that he was in Israel.
The Wellington Palestine Group complained that the introduction to the item which
said "Now to Israel..." misled listeners into believing that the tunnel and the mosque,
which are in East Jerusalem, were in Israel.
When RNZ responded to the complaint, it maintained that as the item was concerned
with a decision made by the Israeli government, in Israel, it was not inaccurate to
introduce it by the phrase "Now to Israel...". It argued that there was no statement,
direct or implied, that Jerusalem was Israeli territory, and declined to uphold the
In its referral to the Authority, the Group contended that as the item referred to an
activity in East Jerusalem, it was inaccurate to preface it by saying "Now to Israel...".
It accepted that the decision to open the tunnel was one made by the Israeli
government, but argued that that was not what the item was about. It maintained that
the item was concerned with events in East Jerusalem – the opening of the tunnel – and
the protest by Palestinians as a response to its opening. The Group believed that any
disinterested listener would conclude from the introduction that RNZ was reporting
about activities in Israel, and that the location of the tunnel at Jerusalem's Temple
Mount was also in Israel.
The Authority acknowledges the Group's frustration about what it perceives as a lack
of precision in the language used to introduce the item. It also understands RNZ's
argument that the item, concerning a decision of the Israeli government, was being
reported on by a correspondent in Israel, even though it concerned something which
was happening in adjacent territory.
In the Authority's view, the item was open to the interpretation claimed by the
Group but because it was ambiguous, it was also open to RNZ's analysis. Although
the Authority concludes that each interpretation is valid, it emphasises that
broadcasters must pay particular attention, especially when reporting on international
affairs to ensure that the information is both clear and accurate and that precise,
unambiguous language is used. On this occasion it concludes that the broadcaster did
not breach the requirement for accuracy.
For the reasons set forth above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
17 December 1996
Wellington Palestine Group's Complaint to Radio New Zealand Ltd -
25 September 1996
Ms Helen Zarifeh, on behalf of the Wellington Palestine Group, complained to Radio
New Zealand about an item on Morning Report broadcast on 25 September 1996.
The item concerned a tunnel leading to the Al Aksa Mosque. Ms Zarifeh noted that
both the tunnel and mosque are in East Jerusalem, but that the announcer, when
introducing the item said "We go to Israel now" or words to that effect. The Group
East Jerusalem is not in Israel, as we have pointed out to Radio NZ many
times before for reasons which we have also made quite clear.
RNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint - 11 October 1996
RNZ advised that it considered the complaint in the context of standard R1 of the
Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. It noted the exact wording of the introduction to
the item which stated:
...Now to Israel, where Prime Minister Netanyahu's government sparked a
maelstrom of protest by opening a tourist tunnel near Islam's third holiest site.
Palestinians have clashed with police after workmen under cover of night and
heavy police guard punched a second entrance through a stone wall to a tunnel
beside Jerusalem's Temple Mount. Palestinian President Yasser Arafat has
labelled the tunnel, or second door, a breach of the foundering Israeli-PLO
Mr Netanyahu's on a state visit to London, attempting to persuade western
leaders that he can broker peace in the region. Well, I spoke to our Middle
East correspondent Robert Berger, and asked why Mr Arafat's so upset about
what seems to be simply a means of getting more tourists to see the sights.
RNZ observed that the Group's complaint challenged only the first line of the story,
and concluded that it could therefore be assumed that the balance of the item was
It then examined the first sentence of the item. It maintained that the first three words
"Now to Israel..." did not apply to the incident to be reported on subsequently.
Those words referred not to Jerusalem being Israeli territory, but to the fact that the
government whose decisions were being discussed was in Israel. It continued:
The first sentence goes on to say that this government action has "sparked a
maelstrom of discontent". The metaphor may be strangely strained, but the
meaning continues to be clear: there is not statement of Israeli territorial
The sentence concludes by saying exactly what action "sparked" the trouble:
the government caused a tunnel to be opened near Islam's third holiest site. At
this point the focus changes from the Israeli government coming to a decision
in Israel to a sharper focus on the event which has arisen from its decision.
RNZ concluded that there was no statement, direct or implied, that Jerusalem was
Israeli territory. It suggested that the end of the first sentence implied the opposite
and that that implication was strengthened by the rest of the item.
It declined to uphold the complaint.
The Group's Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority - 31 October
Dissatisfied with RNZ's decision, the Wellington Palestine Group referred its
complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting
The Group regarded the response as unsatisfactory. It wrote:
The item broadcast was about activity in East Jerusalem. The presenter said,
"Now to Israel". East Jerusalem is not in Israel. It is as simple as that.
Acknowledging that the decision to open the tunnel was made by the Israeli
government, the Group argued that where the decision was made was irrelevant, and
accused RNZ of sophistry. The item, it continued, referred to events occurring in East
Jerusalem. It concluded:
Any disinterested listener would conclude from the crucial first sentence of the
item that Radio NZ was reporting about activities in Israel. They would then
glean from the second sentence that the location within Israel was "Jerusalem's
RNZ's Response to the Authority - 21 November 1996
In a brief response, RNZ advised that it had nothing further to add to its letter of 11
October. However, it did not accept that its view of the item could fairly be described
The Group's Final Comment
The Group did not comment further.