MOHAMMED KHAN AGAINST STUFF

Case Number: 3284

Council Meeting: JULY 2022

Decision: No Grounds to Proceed

Publication: Stuff

Principle: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
Comment and Fact
Columns, Blogs, Opinion and Letters

Ruling Categories: Bias
Columnists Opinion
Editorial Freedom

Overview

On 25 May 2022 Stuff published an opinion piece by Sheree Trotter, a director of the Israel Institute of New Zealand, headlined The accepted western narrative on Palestine is false. It dealt with the shooting of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, and what Trotter said were “accusations that Israel had committed a war crime by deliberately targeting the journalist”, which she said were unsubstantiated. Stuff annotated the opinion piece, saying that analysis had concluded the journalist was most likely killed by Israeli forces. Trotter said the background to the event was terrorist attacks on Israeli citizens. New Zealand leaders and media were largely silent about these attacks and Palestinian social media was “awash the celebratory posts”. The world turned a blind eye to the murder of Israelis because of the dominant narrative that Israel was an occupying force that had displaced indigenous people, a narrative Trotter said was untrue, going on to outline her version of the historical events that cast Israel in a more positive light.

Mohammed Khan objected to the article in the strongest terms, saying the publication of the opinion piece was reprehensible, and that Media Council principles did not allow for an opinion piece to lie. Khan objected to a whole range of assertions in the article, about the background to the journalist's death and the history of the Jewish people and Israel, as well as more current happenings.

Stuff responded, saying they were not going to address the matters point by point, as given the complainant’s strength of feeling there was nothing to be gained. There had been other complaints about the article, which was in itself a response to a previous article arguing the Palestinian cause. Stuff took the view that balance and fairness had been achieved when the coverage was viewed over the long term, as allowed by the Media Council principles. Stuff’s view was that regarding the Palestinian-Israeli issue, there was no middle-ground, minimal to no commonly accepted facts, and little prospect of the differing views being reconciled. Any comment immediately triggered demands from the other side for a counter view. This was unsustainable, so Stuff had decided to reject further articles.

The article is clearly marked as opinion and, in the view of the Media Council the writer is entitled to express her views on what is one of the most vexed and divisive questions of our times. Khan is correct that opinion pieces must be truthful about the facts as required under Principle 4 which states in part: “Material facts on which an opinion is based should be accurate.” However, the problem both Stuff and the Media Council face is that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to state with certainty whether all the “facts” on which this article is based are accurate. It is also fair to assume that anyone reading this opinion piece would know that the facts surrounding the situation are hotly contested and it would be open to them to view them with some scepticism. Stuff has, correctly in our view, made the background of the writer plain and inserted a note about who is probably responsible for the journalist's death. Although balance is not required in a single opinion piece, Stuff’s commitment to allowing both sides to have their say on the issue fulfils any requirement for balance and fairness over time. No principles have been breached.

There are insufficient grounds to proceed.

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