Case Number: 3505

Council Meeting: April 2024

Decision: Not Upheld

Publication: Stuff

Principle: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
Comment and Fact
Headlines and Captions

Ruling Categories: Misleading


  1. On 4 December 2023, Stuff published an article sourced from The Washington Post  titled Babies found decomposing at hospital after Israel’s assault forced nurse to leave them. Jose Aquino complained that the article lacked balance and was misleading, citing Principles (1) Accuracy, Fairness and Balance, (4) Comment and Fact, and (7) Headlines and Captions.
  2. The complaint is not upheld under any of the Principles cited. 

The Article

  1. The article covered the situation at the al-Nasr Children’s Hospital where airstrikes had cut off the oxygen supplies. It said the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) were urging doctors to leave, but the babies could not be safely transported. In the end, staff had to leave and two weeks later when hostilities paused, a journalist found four dead babies. 

The Complaint

  1. Jose Aquino complained the story lacked balance and was misleading. It did not say Hamas used hospitals as military bases, which he said was a crime but attacking a hospital used as a military base was not. Mr Aquino said the “supposed nurse” claimed the oxygen supply was cut off but left babies on respirators.
  2. Mr Aquino said Stuff had left out the following paragraphs from the original article: “In response to the claims, the Israel Defence Forces said, ‘it did not operate inside al Nasr hospital,’ and that ‘these allegations are not only false but also a perverse exploitation of innocent lives, used as tools to spread dangerous misinformation’. ‘This is more evident when taking into account that the IDF assisted in moving newborns from the paediatric ward of the Shifa hospital to safety, as well as provide Israeli incubators in the process,’ the statement added.” 

The Response

  1. Stuff said it had published dozens of stories about the conflict from reputable sources and had been well aware of the need for balance. Stuff said the paragraphs set out by Mr Aquino were not in the original article, but were in a version of the story published by Sky News. However, it noted The Washington Post had later made some changes to the original article and Stuff updated its version, changing the headline to Israel’s assault forced a nurse to leave babies behind. They were found decomposing. Other changes included adding a quote from the IDF to say that no premature babies decomposed because of its actions and likely no babies at all.
  2. Stuff said it was not possible for it to continuously review syndicated articles for updates and it had not been notified of the changes to the original article. It also said that while the paragraphs quoted by Mr Aquino had been included in the Sky News article, it “cannot substantively edit syndication partner stories to add comment given to third parties”.

The Discussion

  1. Mr Aquino believes Stuff should have treated The Washington Post’s article with suspicion, given that the only source was Palestinian and Hamas has a “demonstrated campaign of staging videos of fake ‘wounded’ and ‘dead’”. He is specifically concerned that the article “doesn't mention that Hamas uses hospitals as military bases.”
  2. Principle (1) Accuracy Balance and Fairness says “Publications should be bound at all times by accuracy, fairness and balance, and should not deliberately mislead or misinform readers by commission or omission. In articles of controversy or disagreement, a fair voice must be given to the opposition view.  Exceptions may apply for long-running issues where every side of an issue or argument cannot reasonably be repeated on every occasion and in reportage of proceedings where balance is to be judged on a number of stories, rather than a single report”.
  3. The Council accepts that the conflict in Gaza is a long running issue and Stuff has previously reported on the claim that Hamas uses hospitals as military bases. Additionally, the article deals with the issue in saying “Israel has long accused Hamas of hiding command-and-control centres in hospitals; the Biden administration has backed the claim. Hamas and Gaza medical staff deny it.”
  4. Further balance was later provided by adding the quote from the IDF spokesperson which had been added to The Washington Post article. The Council notes The Washington Post had not amended its article to include this quote until after Stuff had republished it.  The Washington Post published the article on 2 December 2023, updating it at 1.05 pm on 3 December EDT. Stuff republished the article at 9.40 am on 4 December 2023 NZST, almost eight hours before the amendment, given the time zone difference.
  5. Decision: For the reasons set out above, the Council does not uphold the complaint under Principle (1) for lack of balance. The Council also does not uphold the complaint under either Principle (4) Comment and Fact or (6) Headlines and Captions.  The article was not an opinion piece but a report on events in Gaza. The headline accurately reflected the content of the article. 

Council members considering the complaint were Hon Raynor Asher (Chair), Hank Schouten, Rosemary Barraclough Tim Watkin, Katrina Bennett, Ben France-Hudson, Jo Cribb, Judi Jones, Marie Shroff, Alison Thom, Richard Pamatatau.


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