Case Number: 3484

Council Meeting: February 2024

Decision: Upheld

Publication: Discovery TV3 Newshub

Principle: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance

Ruling Categories: Balance, Lack Of


  1. Simon Smelt complains about a Newshub story about the current Israel/Hamas conflict. He complains comments on the situation by former Prime Minister Dame Jacinda Ardern were followed by information about attacks on the Al Shifa hospital which was unbalanced. Dr Smelt further complains the story wrongly attributed a quote about "graveyards".
  2. The complaint falls to be decided under Media Council Principle (1) Accuracy, Fairness and Balance; and Principle (12) Corrections.

The Article

  1. On 16 November 2023 Newshub published a story titled Israel-Hamas war: Former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wants world leaders to 'remember our shared common humanity'. It featured former Prime Minister Dame Jacinda Ardern’s reported comments in response to a question on the issue at her recent Harvard appearance. Her reaction as a leader to the conflict would have been that we need to “remember our shared common humanity”. The story also covered the Israeli raid at the time on Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza and reported that “Ardern’s comments come as the UN calls out Israel, saying it had turned “hospitals into graveyards.” The story went on to say that Al Shifa Hospital has been under constant attack from Israeli forces, with hundreds killed or trapped and that the UN Secretary General has called for an immediate ceasefire.

The Complaint

  1. Dr Simon Smelt complained that the reporting of Jacinda Ardern’s comments was immediately followed by an unrelated Hamas-sourced media story about the attack on Al Shifa hospital. There was no mention or rebuttal about the mitigations offered by Israel, such as safe passage for civilians, or that the attack was aimed at Hamas personnel said to be using the hospital as a shield. The placement of her comments gave the impression that they were in some way linked to the following issues covered. He also says readers could not be expected, in reading this story, to take into account the long running media coverage of both sides of the Israel/Hamas conflict.
  2. In a subsequent communication to Newshub about the complaint on 28 November 2023, Dr Smelt pointed out that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had made the comment that lack of electric power was turning hospitals into graveyards and did not refer to any bombardment. The Newshub story was also incorrect in attributing the comment to the UN instead of the ICRC.

The Response

  1. Newshub initially responded to Dr Smelt that they believed the article was not in breach of Media Council standards. The inclusion of information about attacks on Al Shifa hospital was to provide context for Jacinda Ardern’s comments, as did recent comments from the UN on the conflict.
  2. .In support of its position, Newshub said that the Media Council Principle on Balance provides that “exceptions may apply in the case of long running issues where every side of an issue or argument cannot reasonably be repeated on every occasion…. balance is to be judged on a number of stories…”. This story was a case in point and readers could reasonably be expected to be aware of other, widely reported, perspectives.
  3. .In a subsequent formal response, Warner Bros. Discovery Standards Committee said on behalf of Newshub that at the time of publication two similar, closely aligned quotes were widely reported internationally: the UN Secretary General said “Gaza is becoming a graveyard for children”; and the ICRC spokesperson in Gaza, Hisham Mhanna said “And we fear that hospitals may turn into graveyards if they are not fed with electricity”.
  4. On further review, the Discovery Standards Committee acknowledged to the Media Council on 1 February 2024 that the article incorrectly quoted the UN as the origin of the “hospitals may turn into graveyards” quote, rather than the ICRC. The article had now been updated to provide the quote in full including that it was the lack of electricity giving rise to the graveyards comment, and to attribute it to the ICRC. The Discovery Committee said that if it had been aware earlier of the errors it would have corrected them.
  5. The Discovery Committee says the focus of this article was on the reported comments of Jacinda Ardern. It stands by the view that the Israel/Hamas conflict and the Gaza hospital have been the subject of huge local and international coverage and readers would be aware of that and the wider issues covered. They say the exception for balance in long running stories applies.


The Discussion

  1. Principle (1) requires publications to be bound at all times by accuracy, fairness and balance. Exceptions may apply for long running issues, where every side may not need to be repeated on every occasion. The Israel/Hamas conflict is clearly a very long-running and fast-changing story. Local and international media have reported over time on many aspects of the conflict and continue to do so.
  2. The Council notes that the second and third sentences of the article mentioned the events which sparked the conflict, the initial attack by Hamas on Israel, and numbers of Israeli deaths and hostages, providing some balance to the story.
  3. Discovery have pointed out that many authoritative sources such as the UN and the ICRC have made comments about the conflict, using similar language.  Discovery have acknowledged the “graveyards” comment was wrongly attributed and corrected it to the full quote including mention of the lack of electricity, on their website on 31 January 2024; a footnote explained that attribution had been changed from the UN to the ICRC. We note that this could have been done earlier, as soon the mistake was pointed out to them by Dr Smelt on 28 November 2023. Newshub say they misunderstood Dr Smelt’s second email of that date drawing their attention to the errors, and therefore did not act immediately to correct them.
  4. A lack of accuracy is an issue the Media Council is bound to take very seriously. Dr Smelt’s complaint rightly called out Newshub for misattribution of a quote and potentially misleading readers by failing to mention the lack of electricity (rather than Israeli bombardment) as potentially causing hospitals in Gaza to become graveyards. In the Council’s view, the misattribution of the quote to the UN rather than the ICRC, and the failure to include lack of electricity, were serious and persistent inaccuracies.
  5. Newshub corrected the story on its website on 31 January 2024, saying it was not until 19 January 2024, when they received a communication from the Media Council, that they recognised there were errors. The Council considers Dr Smelt’s follow up communication of 28 November 2023 was clear about the errors in the article, both about the misattribution, and that the shortening of the quote was misleading. The article could have been corrected at that point.
  6. The great mass of information and comment available about the constantly changing situation in the Gaza conflict can lead to mistakes being made by the media. The story was corrected on both main points at issue once the errors were recognised.  However, there was a long delay between the complainant’s communication to Newshub on 28 November 2023 pointing out the mistakes and the correction on 31 January 2024.
  7. Principle (12) Corrections provides that “A publication’s willingness to correct errors enhances its credibility…Significant errors should be promptly corrected with fair prominence…”. In the Council’s view, in this case Newshub did not reach the standard the Council expects for prompt correction.
  8. Dr Smelt has also complained on two other matters: that in his view the article links Jacinda Ardern’s comments with the Al Shifa hospital situation; and that readers could not be expected to take into account the wider perspective of the long running reportage of the Israel/Hamas conflict.
  9. The Council thinks Jacinda Ardern’s comments are relevant, but not closely linked, to the following points covered in the article, and that readers would understand that. The Israel/Hamas conflict is clearly a long running issue. The Council, as a matter of principle and normal practice, credits readers with the ability to comprehend that not every relevant point will be covered in the mass of stories being published on a long-running issue.
  10. It could be said that the attack on Al Shifa hospital in itself was not a long-running issue.  In this regard the article was addressing a one-off event, not itself the subject of long-running debate.  It would have been better if an Israeli perspective on why the hospital was subject to attack had been presented.  However given the constantly changing views on specific incidents in the war, where the facts are the subject of constant change and wildly different assertions, the Council has  decided not to uphold on the principle of lack of balance.  It notes that there was widespread publication in other articles of the alternative Israeli perspective of hospitals being used as Hamas command centres.
  11. The Council therefore does not agree with the complainant on these points.
  12. Decision: The complaint is upheld on inaccuracy, under Principle (1) Accuracy, Fairness and Balance. The complaint is upheld on lack of prompt correction under Principle (12) Corrections. 

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


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