JOHN MINTO ON BEHALF OF THE PALESTINE SOLIDARITY NETWORK AOTEAROA (PSNA) AGAINST RNZ
Case Number: 3319
Council Meeting: OCTOBER 2022
Decision: No Grounds to Proceed
Publication: Radio NZ
Principle: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
Balance, Lack Of
Tragedies, Offensive Handling of
Radio New Zealand published a BBC story on August 8, 2022, headlined Israel-Gaza: Hopes as Gaza ceasefire comes into effect.
The story reported that a ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants had come into effect after three days of violence which left 43 people dead.
John Minto, National Chair of Palestine Solidarity Network Aotearoa, complained that Radio New Zealand’s reporting on recent Israeli attacks on Gaza - as presented in this story and its longer-term reporting of violence in the Middle East - breached standards of accuracy, fairness and balance.
The opening sentence of the report failed to mention that all 43 people who died were Palestinians and this only became clear later in the report.
He said the reference in the first sentence to the protagonists as Israel and Palestinian militants was misleading. This framing of the story immediately put Israel in the right and Palestinians in the wrong despite the violence being initiated by an Israeli missile attack.
Mr Minto criticised the reported reference to Islamic Jihad as a militant group, when it should be referred to as a Palestinian resistance group or an armed Palestinian resistance group. The use of the word “militant” denigrated the Palestinian struggle in the same way Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress were denigrated by the label “terrorists” in the past.
The negative framing of the story with Palestinians as the source of trouble was reinforced with reference to previous attacks against Israel.
Mr Minto said no context was given for these attacks. For example, there was no mention of the hundreds of Palestinians killed by Israeli occupation forces so far this year, and no mention of the long history of Israeli attacks and the killings of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza in the 17 years since it was blockaded by Israel.
Under international law Gaza should be described as “occupied”, “besieged” or “blockaded”. This was critical to public understanding of the context of the violence and the actions of Palestinian resistance groups, but this was not explained anywhere in the report.
He said the story frames the situation with Israel as the victim responding to terror attacks by Palestinians. Any facts which reveal Israel in a bad light – for example the fact Israel initiated the attacks, the fact the 43 killed were all Palestinians, the fact 15 of the killed were children - were buried well down in the report and mentioned only in passing, while the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza resulting from Israel’s blockade did not rate a mention.
Mr Minto said this and two previous related stories carried a narrative that was heavily bent against Palestinians - the victims - and slanted in favour of Israel, the oppressors.
“This deeply distorted view of the Middle East will continue to be presented to RNZ listeners and readers while RNZ unquestioningly present BBC report on the region which, for example, as a matter of policy describe any Palestinians involved in resistance to Israeli’s apartheid policies as ‘militants’.”
RNZ complaints coordinator George Bignell said it could not agree with the substance of this complaint. There was sufficient detail for readers to understand what occurred.
“While the presentation of facts may not have been in the order you preferred, RNZ has found that the manner in which the story was written does not threaten any of the Media Council’s principles referring to accuracy, fairness or balance.
“In particular RNZ stands by the description of Islamic Jihad as a militant organisation given the number of attacks in which this organisation has been engaged in Middle East conflicts.”
The Media Council considers this story to be a straightforward account of the latest important news from Gaza of a ceasefire, with reportage of all the salient facts as well as Israeli and Palestinian views. Readers are given the information and can draw their own conclusions based on the latest reporting and their understanding of what has gone before.
The BBC article is not all pro the Israeli line and, on an overview, it shows Israel exercising its greater power and inflicting most if not all the fatalities. The plight of Palestinians in Gaza is a long running tragedy and it is impractical to expect a recap of its history every time it is back in the news.
The Media Council notes that it is common for parties supporting one side or another in conflicts to accuse the media of bias.
It’s also a truism that one man’s “terrorist” is another man’s “freedom fighter” and journalists attempting to be impartial need to be careful with any labelling. While Mr Minto argued the Palestinian Islamic Jihad should be called a resistance group it could also be argued that it is fair to describe them as militants. The common definition of a militant is a person who is ready and willing to fight for a cause. The Council does not accept the claim that describing someone as a militant equates to calling them “terrorist”. It is to be noted that it is common for the mainstream media, including publications that tend to be sympathetic to the Palestinian cause like the Guardian, to refer to Palestinians and Islamic Jihad fighters as militants. The term has been applied to suffragettes and respected Christian groups; it is not of itself pejorative or condemnatory.
The Media Council notes Mr Minto’s view that the wider framing of coverage is bent against the Palestinians and slanted in favour of Israel. Friends of Israel would no doubt disagree. The treatment of Palestinians has been an issue since the foundation of modern Israel and for decades it has been the subject of news reporting and commentary, all of which might be characterised by someone or another as slanted.
The Media Council cannot uphold a complaint of bias. No inaccuracy, unfairness, or lack of balance has been shown.
Decision: There were insufficient grounds to proceed.