JOHN McCORMICK AGAINST RNZ
Case Number: 3477
Council Meeting: February 2024
Decision: No Grounds to Proceed
Publication: Radio NZ
Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
Comment and Fact
Discrimination and Diversity
Ruling Categories: Misleading
On 17 November 2023, RNZ published a story headed Palestinian ambassador denounces Israeli military operation at Gaza hospital. The story said a Palestinian ambassador, Izzat Salah Abdulhadi, had condemned the takeover of Gaza’s Al-Shifa hospital. The story said: “Canberra-based Ambassador Izzat Salah Abdulhadi is head of the general delegation of Palestine to Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific representing the Palestinian Authority.”
John McCormick said it was wrong to refer to Mr Abdulhadi as an ambassador. He did not have an embassy here or in Australia. The general delegation of Palestine to Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific was not a diplomatic entity because New Zealand did not recognise the Palestine Authority government and territory as a State, therefore the term ambassador should not be used. RNZ said they were satisfied with their usage of the term, quoting the Oxford Dictionary, and saying Mr Abdulhadi used the term to describe himself.
In his formal complaint, Mr McCormick said that the term ambassador was covered by New Zealand law and quoted the relevant Act. The Oxford Dictionary was not above New Zealand law, he said. As to RNZ’s justification that ambassador was how Mr Abdulhadi described himself, there was no requirement for RNZ to address somebody in the way they described themselves, if that description was incorrect, he said. RNZ also said that whether a “general delegation” could be considered an “embassy” would not have affected readers’ understanding that “a spokesperson of some standing for the Palestinian people had denounced the Israeli Defence Force’s occupation of Gaza’s Al-Shifa hospital...”
The Media Council notes that the story initially referred to Mr Abdulhadi as “a Palestinian ambassador” rather than “the Palestinian ambassador” and went on to elaborate on exactly what his position was, leaving little room for confusion. The media is not bound to adhere to the strictly legalistic use of the term ambassador, and the dictionary definition leaves room for flexibility. The story indicates that Mr Abdulhadi has been given an official status by the Palestinian Authority, and in that context, it seems reasonable for RNZ to have used the term ambassador.
Decision: There were insufficient grounds to proceed.