BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Sidani and Zarifeh, on behalf of the Wellington Palestine Group, and Television New Zealand Ltd - 1998-098

Members
  • S R Maling (Chair)
  • R McLeod
  • L M Loates
  • J Withers
Dated
Complainant
  • Akram Sidani and Helen Zarifeh on behalf
Number
1998-098
Programme
One Network News
Channel/Station
TV One

Summary

A trailer broadcast during the news hour on One Network News on 20 May 1998 between 6.00-7.00pm advised that New Zealand’s Rugby Sevens team was at "Israel’s Wailing Wall". The item itself included a caption which identified the Wailing Wall as being in Jerusalem, and the script identified it as part of Israel.

The Wellington Palestine Group, through a representative, complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster that both the trailer and the item perpetuated an untruth, as the Wailing Wall was not part of Israel. The group said it objected to seeing TVNZ being used as a vehicle for Israeli propaganda.

TVNZ responded that both the trailer and the item were in error in describing the Wailing Wall as being in Israel. On these points the complaint was upheld. It did not uphold the complaint that it was misleading for the team to be interviewed at the Wailing Wall about playing rugby in Israel. Having acknowledged the errors, TVNZ advised that it had brought to the attention of its newsroom staff the importance of conveying the correct relationship between the Occupied Territories and Israel.

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 given below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the action taken by TVNZ was insufficient.

Decision

The members of the Authority have viewed the items complained about and have read the correspondence (summarised in the Appendix). On this occasion, the Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

Members of New Zealand’s Rugby Sevens team, playing in an international tournament in Israel, were pictured at the Wailing Wall in East Jerusalem in a sports item on One Network News on 20 May 1998 between 6.00-7.00pm. A trailer previewing the item described the team as being at "Israel’s Wailing Wall". Later, the item included a caption which identified the Wailing Wall as being in Jerusalem, and the voiceover identified it as being part of Israel.

The Wellington Palestine Group, through its representatives, complained to Television New Zealand Ltd that the misinformation conveyed by the trailer, the caption and the item was hurtful and damaging to the people of Palestine. It noted that it had expressed its concerns many times in the past that TVNZ was being used as a vehicle for Israeli propaganda, adding that it was disappointed that TVNZ’s practice continued.

TVNZ dealt with the complaint under standard G1 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which requires broadcasters:

G1 To be truthful and accurate on points of fact.

It accepted unreservedly that the item was in error when it described the team as being at "Israel’s Wailing Wall". It also accepted that the script was wrong when it said the Wailing Wall was a sacred site in Israel. Further, it maintained, while the caption for Jerusalem was, strictly speaking, accurate, its use in combination with the two phrases above could have left a misleading impression. It upheld the complaint on these points.

TVNZ rejected the complaint that the item’s references to Israel’s first International Sevens Tournament – in juxtaposition with the footage at the Wailing Wall - constituted a breach of accuracy.

When it referred the complaint to the Authority, the Group emphasised its dissatisfaction that the mistake made by TVNZ continued a pattern drawn to TVNZ’s attention frequently in the past, and that it was apparently unable to rectify the problem.

The Authority observes with some concern the protracted history of minor transgressions made by TVNZ when dealing with news events in this region. It also notes that many more complaints than have been referred to the Authority have been dealt with (and upheld) by TVNZ. It is therefore disappointed that another matter has been referred to it on the basis of the complainant’s lack of confidence in TVNZ’s assurances, and its apparent inability to implement editorial directions on the correct geographical and political nomenclature in the region.

While the Authority does not consider any further action is warranted – apart from the acknowledgement of the error, and the reassurance of vigilance on the part of its staff – it considers that TVNZ should ensure that all of its staff, including its sports staff, are made aware of the importance of accurate reporting about events in the region. In its view, there is no excuse for the fundamental error which occurred on this occasion. The Authority trusts that its time and resources will not be wasted dealing with further complaints on similar matters.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Sam Maling
Chairperson
27 August 1998

Appendix


The Wellington Palestine Group’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 21 May 1998

The Wellington Palestine Group, through its representative Akram Sidani, complained to Television New Zealand Ltd about a trailer and an item broadcast on One Network News on 20 May 1998 between 6.00-7.00pm.

The item concerned the New Zealand Rugby Sevens team which was playing in Israel. A trailer for the item said that the team was at Israel’s Wailing Wall. Later in the item it was said that the team was at a sacred site in Israel, the Wailing Wall. The location was identified by an on screen caption which referred to it as Jerusalem. The item continued by noting that the team was there for Israel’s first international Sevens tournament.

The Wellington Palestine Group complained that it was inaccurate to state that the Wailing Wall was in Israel. It pointed out that it was in East Jerusalem, which was part of the Occupied Territories, not part of Israel. It also complained about the association of the Wailing Wall with the team playing rugby in Israel. It wrote:

It is surely unnecessary to convey again how hurtful and damaging these untruthful associations are to the people of Palestine. Our Group has already told TVNZ its objections to seeing TVNZ used as a vehicle for Israeli propaganda many times in the past. Unfortunately the practice continues.

TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 3 June 1998

TVNZ advised that it had considered the complaint under standard G1 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

It said that it accepted unreservedly that the item was in error in describing the story in a headline trailer as "a familiar Kiwi cry at Israel’s Wailing Wall". It also accepted that the script was wrong in describing the Wailing Wall as "a sacred site in Israel". While the caption for Jerusalem was, strictly speaking, accurate, it accepted that its use in combination with the two phrases above could have left a misleading impression. On these points, TVNZ advised, the complaint was upheld.

TVNZ responded that it found no error in the reference to "Israel’s first International Sevens tournament". It argued that this was a statement of fact and was not related to the Wailing Wall. It also found nothing wrong with the captain’s observation that "rugby people were the same the whole world over whether it is in New Zealand, France or Israel." This, TVNZ maintained, was a generic statement, and was not related to the spot where he was standing.

TVNZ continued:

While we deeply regret the errors acknowledged above, and have again brought the correct relationship between Israel and the Occupied Territories to the attention of our newsroom staff we must insist that there is nothing sinister about this matter.

The errors were a result of human failings. They were not a consequence of TVNZ being "used as a vehicle for Israeli propaganda" as you put it. With respect, such comment is unhelpful as we endeavour to overcome a problem which we are as anxious to see solved as you are.

The Group’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 25 June 1998

Dissatisfied with the action taken by TVNZ on the aspect upheld, the Group through its representative Helen Zarifeh, referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

The Group noted that having admitted the mistake, TVNZ said it would do something about it. Yet, it wrote, the same mistake nonetheless kept happening. It added:

Meanwhile New Zealand opinion is being subtly shaped by a never ending series of "mistakes" by TVNZ in re-defining a military occupation of Palestinian territory as something benign at best, or Israel rightfully protecting its own from rapacious Palestinians at worst.

The Group advised that it stood by its remark regarding Israeli propaganda. It said that while it had no evidence that staff of TVNZ were deliberately using their positions to advance the Israeli cause, nonetheless the evidence of repeated on air mistakes and the failure of TVNZ to fix the problem indicated that it was:

…either insufficiently concerned about why its news staff are so susceptible to the Israeli world view, or that TVNZ editors are unable to direct their own front line staff.

Which is it?

TVNZ’s Response to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 2 July 1998

TVNZ advised that it had little to add to its earlier response. It wrote:

By way of explanation (but certainly not as an excuse) we advise that the offending piece was written by a sports reporter hurriedly drafted in to assist at a time when the newsroom deadline had become exceedingly tight. Middle East politics was not within his area of expertise. Times when "all hands" are required in order to get the bulletins out are not rare; unfortunately it is at moments of such pressure that mistakes are made.

TVNZ repeated that it was distressed at such errors, and continued to make an effort to overcome them.

The Group’s Final Comment – 23 July 1998

The Group advised that it had little to add to TVNZ’s response, except to note that it made no difference whether the mistake was made by a sports or general reporter. It emphasised that the coverage was included within the news hour, and added that TVNZ owed the same duty of care in all of its news programmes.

The Group advised that it wished to put the complaint in the context of previous upheld complaints about the same matter. It wrote:

The issue is the regular presentation, over many years, by TVNZ news bulletins, of Israel owning, rather than occupying, Palestinian territory.

The Group provided copies of letters from TVNZ in which it had upheld previous complaints. It asked the Authority to retain them in order to put the matter of the present breach into context.