AZARIA BIALIK AGAINST STUFF
Case Number: 2684
Council Meeting: JULY 2018
Verdict: Not Upheld
Comment and Fact
Headlines and Captions
1. Azaria Bialik complains that an article published on the Stuff website breaches a number of the Media Council principles.
2. The Media Council does not uphold the complaint.
3. On May 16, 2018, Stuff published an article originally published by the Telegraph, London, and headed “Eight-month-old Leila, Palestinian martyr and political poster child”.The article described the aftermath of mass protests in Gaza in which a number (the actual number appears to be disputed) of Palestinians were killed. It included a description of the funeral of eight-month-old Leila Al-Ghandour, a statement by her family saying she died after inhaling a cloud of Israeli tear gas during the protests, and a description of her photograph printed on a “martyr’s banner” produced by members of the local Fatah party. A photograph of the child accompanied the article, along with other photographs relating to the protests.
4. Later the same day Stuff published a further article about the Israel/Palestine conflict. This article included a statement that the Gaza Health Ministry said a 9-month-old girl died from tear gas exposure but medical officials “later cast doubt on that claim, saying the infant had a pre-existing medical condition. It remained unclear Tuesday [May 15] where and how the child died.”
5. The main thrust of Mr Bialik’s complaint is that reporting the child’s death as resulting from tear gas used by the Israeli army was inaccurate, misleading and biased. It was known at the time of publication that there was uncertainty about the cause of her death. The article should have been corrected, and it was not sufficient to note the uncertainty in a different article that would not necessarily be read by readers of the first article. On 24 May the Guardian reported that the child’s name had been removed from the Gaza ministry’s list of people killed by the Israeli army. This made the accusations in the Stuff report even more misleading.
6. Mr Bialik also complains that “the use of the child’s photograph on the article icon to achieve empathy is a miserable choice by all standards considering the fact that her parents willingly chose to bring her to the fighting zone with tear gas and live fire.”
7. The deputy editor of Stuff, Keith Lynch, responded to the complaint saying the story was simply a report of the events round the child’s death with the best information available at the time, and mentioned the second story.
8. In a later and rather more detailed response, Mr Lynch noted that in a developing news situation, the available information is rarely perfect. It was clear from the reporting that the Telegraph could not be certain how the child died and indeed the salient points of the story were about the reaction of her family and of the local Fatah party to the death. The writer of the story did not state that the child was killed after inhaling tear gas, rather the report was of what her family had said.
9. The paragraph in the later article was not added by way of correction. It was simply part of a story from a different source (AP) and shows that AP and the Telegraph gathered different information through their reporting.
10. The central premise of the story was that “rightly or wrongly, the eight-month-old became a poster child for the Palestinians through this violent episode.” This premise is not undermined by doubts about the cause of the child’s death.
11. Mr Bialik complains primarily about the inaccuracy of the statement that the death of Leila Al-Ghandour was attributable to the Israeli army’s use of tear gas.However this statement was clearly reported as made by her family, not by the writer of the Telegraph article, and there is no reason to believe it was not an accurate report of the family’s statement.
12. The conflict on the borders of Israel has been ongoing for a long time and has been extensively reported. Any reader should understand that, in the confusion of such conflict, statements that cannot be verified will be made by the participants and will be reported. The obligation of the media is to report the statements accurately and not to endorse any that cannot be verified. In this case there was no endorsement, simply a report of the family’s statement. Similarly, in the later article, there was simply a report of further unverified information that had come to hand.
13. As to the question of bias, the prime purpose of this article was to report factually on the conflict and to point out the rather disturbing and bizarre use of the child’s death to make a political point. The Media Council can see no bias in this approach and in a long-running situation balance will be achieved over time.
14. Mr Bialik has mentioned Principles 4 (fact and comment) and 6 (headlines and captions) in his complaint but has not explained how he believes they have been breached. The article in question does not appear to contain any material that is comment rather than fact, and the headline clearly conveys a key (in fact the key) element of the article.
15. Finally Mr Bialik complains about the use of a photograph of the child as emotional manipulation. The media are required to give special consideration when photographs show distressing or shocking situations, but although the story behind the photograph is a sad one, there is nothing distressing or shocking about the photograph itself.
16. The complaint is not upheld
Media Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Jo Cribb, Chris Darlow, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, Hank Schouten, Christina Tay, Tim Watkin and Tracy Watkins.