Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Responses from Press Complaints Commission: as expected a complete whitewash of anti-Israel reporting


I have had responses to two of the complaints I have recently submitted to the Press Complaints Commission (one to a series of articles over several days in the Sun, and one to a set of articles on 1 August in the Standard). The responses can be summarised as:
Newspapers have discretion to be completely biased as long as they do not write things which have been proven to be false in a court of law - and in the absence of such proof they can accept what Hamas says as being true and ignore what Israel says as being false.
I did not really expect anything different but at least I forced the newspapers to respond (which they failed to do by writing to them). The full PCC decisions appear below. Interestingly, this piece by former AP reporter Matti Friedman tells you everything you need to know about why the media refuses to report the truth about Israel.

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Commission's decision in the case of complainant v The Sun


The complainant was concerned that four articles in the newspaper were inaccurate and misleading in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editor's Code of Practice, and that the newspaper had breached Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply) of the Code. The complainant was concerned that the articles were biased against Israel and did not explain that the conflict started when Hamas fired rockets into Israel or highlight the suffering caused to Israelis by the rockets. He said the figure for the number of Palestinian deaths was unreliable as it came from Hamas; this should have been challenged by the newspaper. He considered the 16 July article to be misleading in that it did not make clear that the ceasefire was only observed by Israel and not Hamas. He said the 17 July article was inaccurate when it stated the Palestinians were killed by an Israeli gunboat, as in actual fact, Israel denied the attack and the evidence indicated that Hamas was to blame for the attack. He also considered the photographs in the 14 July and 15 July articles to be distorted. Lastly, he considered Clause 2 of the Code to have been breached as the newspaper had not acknowledged his complaint to the editor.

Clause 1 (i) and (iii) of the Code state "the press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures" and the "the press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact." The Commission firstly wished to make clear that newspapers are entitled to be partisan and to take robust, controversial editorial positions on issues of legitimate debate such as the Israel-Palestine conflict. However, the newspaper's obligations to take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information remained. The question for the Commission was therefore not whether the articles were biased against Israel, but whether they contained inaccurate or misleading information, or otherwise breached the terms of the Code.

The Commission noted the complainant's concern that the newspaper did not mention that the present conflict was started by Hamas; however, all the articles were written at least a few days into the conflict and reported on the incidents that occurred on a particular day. The newspaper was entitled to report on these recent events and was not obliged, in doing so, to provide a full history of the conflict. While the complainant considered the figure for the number of Palestinian deaths to be inaccurate, the 15 July article clearly stated that Foreign Secretary, William Hague, had told MPs that 173 Palestinians had died. Indeed, Mr Hague had also stated that 80 per cent of the deaths were civilians. As such, the newspaper was fully entitled to report information that had come from an official government source; this did not represent a failure to take care over accuracy. The Commission noted that the complainant said the 16 July article was inaccurate because it did not make clear that the ceasefire was only observed by Israel; however, the article stated that "Israel resumed air strikes after Hamas fired scores of rockets." This indicated to readers that Israel responded with air strikes after Hamas had broken the ceasefire.

The Commission next turned to the complainant's concern that the 17 July article inaccurately stated that the young Palestinians were killed by an Israeli gunboat. He said that Israel denied the attack and that the article failed to mention that Hamas was probably responsible for their deaths as the children were playing in an area where Hamas was firing rockets. The Commission noted that the text of the article had quoted witnesses to the incident who said that the children were killed by Israeli shells. This made clear to readers that the source of the information were witnesses in Gaza. The article had also quoted the Israeli military who said that "it was looking into the incident." This indicated that the Israelis did not take responsibility for the attack, but were not blaming Hamas at this point either. In general, the Commission considered that readers would be aware that, in incidents such as this in foreign warzones, it can be almost impossible to uncover the exact circumstances surrounding an incident. Therefore, given the fact that the newspaper had made clear its source of information and the Israeli position on the incident, the Commission did not establish a breach of Clause 1 on this point.

The Commission then addressed the complainant's concern that the photographs in the 14 July and 15 July articles had been distorted in breach of Clause 1. He believed the photographs had been staged for dramatic effect. However, the Commission noted that the complainant's concern was solely based on speculation. As he did not appear to have any direct knowledge regarding this specific photograph, the Commission was unable to establish a breach of the Clause 1.

Lastly, the Commission turned to the complainant's concern under Clause 2 of the Code, which states "a fair opportunity for reply to inaccuracies must be given when reasonably called for." The complainant was concerned that the newspaper did not acknowledge his complaint to the editor. However, as the Commission had not established any significant inaccuracies or misleading statements in the article, Clause 2 was not engaged in this case. There was no breach of the Code.


Commission's decision in the case of complainant v Evening Standard

The complainant was concerned that three articles in the newspaper which reported on the Israel-Gaza conflict breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors' Code of Practice. The complainant expressed concern that the articles, and indeed the newspaper's coverage in general, displayed a heavy anti-Israel bias. He said two of the articles reported human interest stories from a Palestinian perspective, but the newspaper did not provide any Israeli human interest story. He considered the first article to be inaccurate as it stated that Israel broke the ceasefire, when actually the UN had stated that the ceasefire was broken by Hamas. He expressed further concern that that the Israel-Gaza conflict was the only foreign conflict reported in the newspaper that day, when there are on-going conflicts occurring in Libya, Ukraine, Syria and Iraq. In his view, this demonstrated the newspaper's anti-Israel bias.

Clause 1 of the Code states "the press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures" and "the press whilst free to be partisan must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact." The Commission noted that the complainant considered the newspaper's general coverage to display an anti-Israel bias. The Commission emphasised that newspapers are entitled to be partisan and to take controversial editorial positions on issues of legitimate debate such as the Israel-Palestine conflict. Nevertheless, the newspaper's obligations to take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information are not negated by taking a prominent, partisan position on an issue. The question for the Commission was whether they contained inaccurate or misleading information, or otherwise breached the terms of the Code.

The Commission considered the complainant's concern that the article had inaccurately suggested that it was Israel that broke the ceasefire. It noted that on multiple occasions in the article, including the headline and the first paragraph, it had suggested that Israel was responsible for breaking the ceasefire. However, the article had also stated that "Israel suggested the tanks fired in response to a militant attack." This informed the reader of the Israeli position that they did not consider themselves to be responsible for the collapse of the ceasefire. While the complainant pointed out that the UN Secretary General had blamed Hamas for violating the ceasefire, it was unclear whether this statement was made before the newspaper went to print. In any case, the Commission considered that readers would be aware that, in incidents such as this in foreign warzones, there is significant difficulty in reporting rolling news coverage when conflicting information is being given by both sides. As such, given the fact that the newspaper had also outlined the Israeli position on the incident, the Commission did not believe readers would be misled by the article, such that a correction would be required.

The Commission lastly turned to address the complainant's concern about the newspaper's general focus on the Israel-Gaza conflict as opposed to other foreign conflicts. It made clear that the presentation and selection of material for publication was a matter for the discretion of individual editors, provided that the material was not inaccurate or misleading, or did not otherwise breach the terms of Code. In this case, it had been established that the concerns the complainant raised about these articles did not breach the terms of the Code; the fact that the newspaper had not covered other foreign conflicts as much the Israel-Gaza conflict was not an issue that fell within the Commission's remit. There was no breach of the Code.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

So it's O.K. to blatantly lie in the headline as long as you are more truthful in the body of the article.

philipwitriol said...

Whereas I received an extremely logical and well-reasoned explanation as to why my complaint could not be upheld.

Commission’s decision in the case of
Witriol v The Daily Telegraph


The complainant was concerned that the newspaper’s online live blog of the Israel-Gaza conflict breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. The complainant objected to the use of the term “genocide” in the statement “a group of Israeli activists in Tel Aviv has been filmed cheering the genocide of Gaza children, chanting ‘There are no more kids left.’” He considered the use of the term to be extremely inaccurate, and said it was obscene, ludicrous and anti-Semitic.

Clause 1 of the Code states “the press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.” Clause 1 (iii) states “the press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.”

The Commission acknowledged that the complainant strongly objected to the term “genocide” to describe Israel’s actions in the conflict. However, it took the view that, in the context of the coverage as a whole, readers would be aware that the term represented a comment by the writer, based on the chants of the activists, rather than a statement of fact. The blog had provided a detailed chronicle of events in Israel and Gaza that day, of which the accuracy had not been disputed by the complainant. Readers would therefore be in a position to understand the basis of the writer’s comment and come to their own views on its validity. While the Commission could fully understand that many readers would find the comment highly provocative, there was no breach of the Code.