Wellington Palestine Group and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2021-025 (22 June 2021)
- Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
- Leigh Pearson
- Paula Rose QSO
- Susie Staley MNZM
- Wellington Palestine Group
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
The Authority has not upheld a complaint about an item on 1 News covering the impact of COVID-19 on attendance at Christmas celebrations around the world. The complaint was the coverage of celebrations in Bethlehem, with reference to the closure of Israel’s international airport, created the impression that Bethlehem is part of Israel. The Authority acknowledged Bethlehem is a highly contested area, but also noted the broadcast was not about the Israel-Palestine conflict. The Authority found, in the context of the broadcast, the brief segment on celebrations in Bethlehem and the simple reference to the closure of Israel’s international airport was unlikely to have misled viewers.
Not Upheld: Accuracy
 An item on 1 News, on 26 December 2020, covered the impact of COVID-19 on attendance at Christmas celebrations around the world, including Bethlehem:
Similar scenes at Jesus’ birthplace in Bethlehem, where only a small crowd gathered for the Christmas midnight mass, usually filled with thousands of people. Only residents and religious officials attended. Israel’s international airport is closed, keeping foreign visitors away.
 The Wellington Palestine Group (WPG) complained the broadcast breached the accuracy standard:
- ‘The report is misleading. The report provided just two geographic indicators – Bethlehem and Israel.’
- ‘A viewer would have been left with the completely mistaken impression that Bethlehem is part of Israel.’
- ‘As has been so often the case in TVNZ news reports over now a number of decades, the refusal of the reporters to be precise and so describe locations in the Occupied Territories as such, leads to the wrong but inescapable conclusion to be drawn by a viewer, that they are viewing a report from Israel.’
- ‘TVNZ…continues to employ the misleading evasion and ambiguity in its descriptions of the geography of the region, which leads to further confusion and a continuing misunderstanding that East Jerusalem and locations in the West Bank are something other than under a legal state of belligerent occupation by Israel.’
- ‘TVNZ wrote to us on 4 October 1990, stating that the policy of TVNZ is “to always make a distinction between Israel, and the Occupied Territories – usually by reference to specific areas such as the ‘occupied West Bank’”. In the 30 years since this has not happened.’
- While TVNZ has asserted that it was appropriate to mention Israel’s international airport as that airport is the closest, the Queen Alia International Airport in Amman, which services some 20 million passengers a year, is also used to access the Occupied Territories.
- While TVNZ asserted the point was not material in a broadcast about Christmas celebrations, ‘To report on a Christmas service with absolutely no reference to any such occupation is quite simply a business-as-usual cosmetic commentary on life for the Palestinians in the Territories.’
The broadcaster’s response
 TVNZ did not uphold WPG’s complaint for the following reasons:
- ‘Ben Gurion (TLV), or Israel’s International Airport, is the closest airport to Bethlehem and this is why its closure would affect visitors to Bethlehem. International visitors routinely and predominantly fly into Ben Gurion to visit Bethlehem.’
- ‘The Committee therefore disagrees that there was any statement or implication in the 1 News story that Bethlehem is part of Israel…’
- ‘[W]e note in any case that this information is not material to viewers’ understanding of the main point of the article, namely, Christmas celebrations in some of the world’s important religious/Christian places.’
 The accuracy standard1 protects the public from being significantly misinformed.2 It states that 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.
 We have watched the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.
 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.
 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’.3 Programmes may be misleading by omission, or as a result of the way dialogue and images have been edited together.4
Was the broadcast inaccurate or misleading?
 In this case, the broadcast was not factually inaccurate, but the complaint is it was misleading on the basis it provided just two geographic indicators, Bethlehem and Israel, leaving viewers ‘with the completely mistaken impression that Bethlehem is part of Israel’.
 We acknowledge that Bethlehem is a highly contested area and that we have previously warned broadcasters to take special care with the geographic labels used for such areas when reporting on the conflict. However, the relevant segment was not about the Israel-Palestine conflict and we do not consider the item to have inferred Bethlehem was part of Israel.
 In the context of a broadcast focused on the impact of COVID-19 on attendance at Christmas celebrations around the world, the brief segment on celebrations in Bethlehem and the simple reference to the closure of Israel’s international airport (which both parties accept was the closest) was unlikely to have misled viewers.
For the above reasons, the Authority does not uphold the complaint
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
Judge Bill Hastings
22 June 2021
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Wellington Palestine Group’s formal complaint – 18 January 2021
2 TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 16 February 2021
3 WPG’s referral to the Authority – 15 March 2021
4 TVNZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 16 April 2021
1 Standard 9 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice
2 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
3 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
4 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 19