Case Number: 3497

Council Meeting: March 2024

Decision: Upheld

Publication: Stuff

Principle: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
Comment and Fact

Ruling Categories: Misleading


  1. On 15 October 2023 Stuff published an opinion piece by Damien Grant entitled Hamas apologists are siding with evil, end of discussion. The complaint is upheld on Principle (4) on the use of the word “buy” in relation to the acquisition of Palestinian land; and on Principle (12) Corrections. The complaint is not upheld in relation to other aspects.

The Article

  1. The opinion piece by Damien Grant describes the Hamas attack on Israel on 7 October 2023 as a planned and abhorrent attack on Jewish people. The article says there is no moral equivalence, between the Hamas attacks on Jews, and Israeli policies their critics may disagree with. It goes on to state that Israel allows as much self-governance in the territories as its security can tolerate, and that the history of Israel is one of restraint in the face of provocation. “The worst intentional crime committed by Israel is to buy land off West Bank farmers and build houses.”

The Complaint

  1. Dr Ali complains the assertion that Israel buys land from West Bank famers is plainly incorrect. He provides material, including from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, to support his view that Israel is occupied and says under international law there is no buying – “only theft, seizure and dispossession”. He says Muslims are powerless and discriminated against. It is common for land to be taken from Arabs for security or other reasons of state or, for example, because it has not been cultivated for three years, or its ownership is not easily proven; and then used for Israeli housing. The article is therefore in breach of the requirement that material facts on which an opinion is based should be accurate. Dr Ali says Damien Grant is also incorrect in stating that compensation is given for land.
  2. Dr Ali says on the issue of self-governance the article states “Israel allows as much self- governance as its security can tolerate”. He complains the author does not clarify that the territories are occupied under international law and that Israeli settlers have superior freedom of movement, voting, building, water and judicial rights to their Arab neighbours. Discrimination against Arabs amounts to apartheid and many Israeli policies are punitive in nature, intended to humiliate Palestinians and advance the demographic goal of the Israeli state, having no connection to security issues. He says the article breaches Media Council Principles (1) Accuracy, Fairness and Balance; and Principle (5) Blogs, Opinion and Letters

The Response

  1. Stuff responded that the Damien Grant article is an opinion piece by a regular contributor and is clearly marked as such. It does not believe that any Media Council Principles have been breached. Stuff has since reviewed the use of the word “buy”. In consultation with Damien Grant, Stuff made an undated amendment to the text (they estimate this was done after 25 January) replacing “buy” with “acquire” and adding a note of clarification that the change was to express more broadly the ways Israeli settlers have taken West Bank land. Stuff believes the word was not in breach of the Principles, because there was some factual basis to the word “buy”. Many owners of lands were paid or had the offer of payment. However, Stuff acknowledges that “buy” was too narrow a word and did not accurately reflect the general situation of land acquisition by Israeli settlers.
  2. On the issue of self-governance, Stuff says that Damien Grant’s column does not purport to be an exhaustive account of the current conflict. The column of 15 October offers his opinion on what happened in the 7 October attack by Hamas and was an attempt to make sense of the security aspects of the situation. On the general issue of accuracy, fairness and balance the opinion piece qualifies as an exception because the conflict is a long running story where every side of the issue cannot reasonably be repeated on every occasion. Stuff has published many articles on the issue both before and after 7 October 2023.

The Discussion

  1. The article by Damien Grant in Stuff is a clearly marked opinion piece, with a striking headline, on a long running and controversial topic. The columnist is explicitly presented as writing from a libertarian point of view. The article puts forward, as opinion writers often do, a strong statement of one side of a dispute, in this case a pro-Israel position. In the wake of the recent Hamas attacks on Israeli civilians, the Israeli side of the dispute is presented against a background of commentators Damien Grant describes as apologists for Hamas, explaining the Hamas attacks in the context of Israeli policies towards Arabs.
  2. The “buying” of West Bank land presented as a fact is used as a debating point in the article. Under Principle (4) of the Media Council principles, material facts on which an opinion is based should be accurate. In the Council’s view, the use of the word “buy” in relation to acquisitions of land by Israelis is inaccurate and used to support the opinion writer’s case arguing for the Israeli side in the current extremely controversial and distressing situation. After telling Dr Ali initially there was no breach, Stuff itself has now acknowledged this as an issue by changing the word “buy” to “acquire”, which Stuff now sees as more reflective of the way in which Israelis acquired lands from Arabs.
  3. It is a fine call, but the Council upholds the complaint under Principle (4) on the word “buy”. It regards this as a one-sided statement, significant to the dispute, being presented as fact when there is no clear information supporting this contention. The vast balance of opinion is that a lot of the land acquired by Israelis in the territories was not purchased from Palestinians in the usual sense of an agreement and payment of money. While some land may have been purchased, a lot was not. Damien Grant has every right to hold the opinion that buying land off West Bank farmers is Israel’s “worst intentional crime” but it is inaccurate to describe the West Bank and/or the territories as merely having been bought off Palestinians. The material facts are that a lot of the land in question was acquired by other means, many of which are disputed.
  4. On whether compensation is paid for land taken, the information supplied is less clear, and the Council cannot make a call on whether that is a factual error in the article.
  5. The complaint also cites Principle (1) Accuracy, Fairness and Balance, in relation to the article’s claim that Israel allows territories to have “as much self-governance as its security can tolerate”. Dr Ali cites extensive material in support of his contention that the occupied legal status of the territories, and the reduced or absent rights of their Arab inhabitants show only a low level of self- governance is allowed. In the Council’s view, the author is entitled to express his opinion on this aspect. Reporting over time on this controversial conflict, Stuff and other media outlets have published a great deal of material on both sides of the issue. The fact that every fact and opinion cannot in practice be repeated in every article is relevant. This is a long- running issue. The article is clearly labelled opinion. The Council does not uphold this aspect of the complaint under Principle (1).
  6. Stuff to their credit published a correction and explanation in changing the word “buy” to “acquire”. However, this was done after 25 January, well over 2 months after the original piece was published, although the point at issue had been drawn to their attention by Dr Ali immediately after publication. The correction was made after the complaint had moved on to the Council. The Council believes a more timely correction was called for in this case. If Stuff had made the correction more promptly the Council would not have upheld. Two months was too long an interval.
  7. The Council finds a breach under Principle (12) Corrections.
  8. Decision: In summary the Council upholds the complaint  on Principle (4) Comment and Fact and Principle (12) Corrections. The complaint is not upheld on the other aspects.
    Council members Hon Raynor Asher (Chair), Tim Watkin, Scott Inglis, Marie Shroff, Richard Pamatatau, Rosemary Barraclough, Reina Vaai.



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