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 - 1997-037

Members
  • J M Potter (Chair)
  • R McLeod
  • L M Loates
  • A Martin
Dated
Complainant
  • Wellington Palestine Group
Number
1997-037
Programme
One Network News
Channel/Station
TV One


Summary

In an item about an Internet connection with the Wailing Wall in East Jerusalem

broadcast on One Network News on 6 January 1997 between 6.00–7.00pm, it was

stated that the offices of the organisation which provided the connection were in

Israel.

The Wellington Palestine Group complained that it was false to identify the offices of

the organisation as being in Israel when they were, in fact, in Jerusalem. It considered

the ambiguity of the reference to be harmful.

TVNZ responded first, that its policy not to differentiate Jerusalem from Israel was

one shared by many broadcasters who, when dealing with Jerusalem, avoided attaching

the name of any country to it. However on the matter of identifying the headquarters

of the organisation which provided the Internet connection as being in Israel (when in

fact it is in Jerusalem), TVNZ acknowledged that the CBS report was in error, and

accordingly upheld that aspect of the complaint. It observed that the error was an

extremely minor one, and considered that few viewers in New Zealand would have

known that the offices were in Jerusalem and further, that the reference was incidental

to the subject matter of the item.

Dissatisfied with the response, the Group referred its 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.


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.

In an item about religion on the Internet on One Network News broadcast by TVNZ

on 6 January 1997, it was reported that a Jewish organisation was providing pictures

of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem and delivering prayers to the Wall from Internet

users. That organisation, the report stated, had its headquarters in Israel.

The Wellington Palestine Group complained that although the report correctly

identified the Wailing Wall as being in Jerusalem, it failed to differentiate Jerusalem

from Israel. Further, it maintained, the report was incorrect in stating that the

headquarters of Aish HoTorah, the Jewish organisation responsible for the connection,

was in Israel. In fact, it pointed out, its headquarters was in Jerusalem. In the

Group's view, the ambiguity in the description was harmful and unacceptable, because

it was an error which was frequently made.

TVNZ considered the complaint in the context of standard G14 of the Television

Code of Broadcasting Practice, which states:

G14  News must be presented accurately, objectively and impartially.


TVNZ explained that its policy when dealing with Jerusalem was simply to identify it

as Jerusalem, without attaching the name of any country to it, especially if the story

concerned a non-political issue. On this occasion, TVNZ maintained that it sufficed

simply to state that the Wailing Wall was in Jerusalem. It therefore did not uphold

this aspect of the complaint.

On the matter of falsely identifying the headquarters of Aish HaTorah as being in

Israel when in fact it is in Jerusalem, TVNZ conceded that the report was in error. It

therefore upheld this aspect of the complaint. However, it argued, the error was an

extremely minor one, and few viewers would have known that the headquarters of the

organisation was in Jerusalem. Further, TVNZ contended, the reference was very

much incidental to the subject matter of the item.

TVNZ suggested that while it strived for accuracy in its reporting, it was unreasonable

to expect its editors to check every overseas story for accuracy, especially when the

source was a reputable one like CBS. Nevertheless, it added, it would circulate copies

of its decision on the complaint to its editorial staff and remind them of the need for

diligence when dealing with subject matter of this nature.

When it referred the complaint to the Authority, the Wellington Palestine Group

repeated its contention that TVNZ's reporters lacked an understanding of Middle East

geography, particularly as it pertained to Israel. The Group rejected TVNZ's claim

that because most viewers would not have been aware of the mistake, it was therefore

permissible. It reiterated that the frequency with which such errors occurred

illustrated the bias of either TVNZ's news suppliers or its staff. It did not consider

the action taken by TVNZ to be sufficient. It believed the appropriate remedy was

for TVNZ to take up the matter with its overseas news suppliers.

The Authority's task is to decide whether the remedy proposed by TVNZ – to raise

awareness among its editorial staff of the need for diligence when dealing with subject

matter of this nature – was sufficient. It notes that the story was sourced from CBS in

the United States – a reputable international news organisation – and accepts TVNZ's

argument that it is unreasonable to expect its news and editorial staff to check every

detail of such a story. Nevertheless, it notes that TVNZ gave an assurance that its

staff would be reminded of the need for diligence, a course of action which the

Authority decides in the circumstances, is sufficient. Accordingly the Authority

declines to uphold the complaint that the action taken was not sufficient.

 

For the reasons given above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.


Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Judith Potter
Chairperson
17 April 1997

Appendix


Wellington Palestine Group's Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd - 7

January 1997

The Wellington Palestine Group complained to Television New Zealand Ltd about its

broadcast of an item on One Network News broadcast on 6 January 1997 between 6.00

- 7.00pm.

The item was about an Internet connection with the Wailing Wall in East Jerusalem.

The Group noted that the item correctly identified the Wailing Wall as being in

Jerusalem, but that it failed to differentiate Jerusalem from Israel. It pointed out that

it falsely identified the offices of the organisation responsible for the connection as

being in Israel. It continued:

As usual we do not need to point out to TVNZ why we find this ambiguous or

false geographical identification in television news as harmful. Nor do we find

it acceptable that this error should be so constantly made.

TVNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint - 29 January 1997

TVNZ pointed out that the item was sourced from the United States and concerned

the increasing use of the Internet by religious groups. One group shown was a Jewish

organisation which provided pictures of the Wailing Wall and delivered prayers to the

Wall from Internet subscribers.

TVNZ explained that its policy and that of other broadcasters was when dealing with

Jerusalem to simply identify it as Jerusalem without attaching the name of any

country to it. It believed on this occasion it sufficed to simply refer to the city and

declined to uphold this aspect of the complaint.

On the matter of falsely identifying the headquarters of the organisation as being in

Israel, when in fact it was in Jerusalem, TVNZ conceded that the CBS report was in

error. It upheld that aspect of the complaint, although it noted that the error was an

extremely minor one, adding:

Few indeed would be the New Zealand viewers who would know that the

offices of Aish HaTorah were in Jerusalem, or would have linked the reference

to the headquarters with the quite separate mention of Jerusalem more than 30

seconds beforehand. Further, the reference to Aish HaTorah was very much

incidental to the subject matter of the item.

TVNZ maintained that it was unreasonable for its programme editors to have to check

every supposed "fact" received from overseas sources, especially when the source

was as reputable as CBS. Nevertheless, it advised, copies of its decision would be

circulated to editorial staff, reminding them to be diligent when dealing with subject

matter of this nature.

Wellington Palestine Group - 20 February 1997

The Group referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under

s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, being dissatisfied with the action taken by

TVNZ, having upheld an aspect of the complaint.

The Group was dissatisfied that TVNZ attempted to minimise the inaccuracy by

stating that the error was incidental, and that most New Zealanders would be unaware

of the location of the shot they were viewing.

The Group maintained that TVNZ's reporters' understanding of Middle East

geography as it pertained to Israel was deficient. It believed it was no defence for

TVNZ to state that if most viewers did not spot the mistake, then it was all right to

make it. The Group continued:

The frequency with which TVNZ 'fudges' geography or makes outright errors

in favour of Israeli claims, and its inability to learn from its mistakes, illustrates

the bias (albeit unconscious) of either its news suppliers or some of its staff, or

both. Only rarely for instance do TVNZ news items point out that the Israeli

occupation is occupation and that its settlements are illegal.

The Group contended that viewers would have concluded from the item that the

Wailing Wall and the headquarters of Aish HaTorah were both in Jerusalem and that

Jerusalem was part of Israel.

It noted that the Palestine National Authority and the Israeli government were

scheduled to move soon into the final stages of implementing the Oslo accords. This

included reaching an agreement on the withdrawal of Israel from Jerusalem. In the

Group's view, Israel was attempting to resist a withdrawal and attempting to

persuade the media that its occupation was legitimate.

The Group explained that it brought the complaint to the Authority because it

believed the appropriate remedy was for TVNZ to take up the issue of inaccuracies

with its overseas news suppliers. It considered that was a more obvious way of

remedying the problem than talking to its news staff.

TVNZ's Response to the Authority - 28 February 1997

TVNZ advised that it had no further comments to make.