Case Number: 827

Council Meeting: June 2001

Verdict: Dismissed

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Accuracy

The Press Council has not upheld a complaint laid on behalf of the Palestine Human Rights Campaign by Gordon Duff (Secretary), supported by David Wakim (spokesperson), about a tag used in the New Zealand Herald of 16 April 2001 over an article on the impact of current fighting between Israelis and Palestinians on religious pilgrimages to the old city of Jerusalem.

The Herald introduced an AP report, under the headline "Modern-day conflict puts damper on pilgrimage to trace last steps of Christ", with a tag highlighting the national name 'Israel'. The complainants challenged this practice, claiming that "Israel" had been used as a headline, which gave substance to Israeli claims to east Jerusalem. They noted that the article was mainly about the Old City of Jerusalem, an area which is not part of Israel. Certainly this latter view is in accordance with the position of the New Zealand Government, which does not recognise the annexation of the Old City by Israel in 1980 ­ following its capture from Jordan in the "Six Day" war of 1967. The future of the Old City as part of East Jerusalem is an important issue of the present continuing hostilities and is a key part of negotiations for a peace settlement. The political and diplomatic sensitivities involved constitute something of a minefield for editors.

The article in question, however, raised no issues of jurisdiction or ownership. In the context of Easter observances the emphasis was on the sharp drop in numbers of religious pilgrims to the Christian holy places. The subject was tourism. It was noted that as a result of the fighting, and the travel restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities, many people had been laid off from jobs in the tourism sectors in both Israeli and Palestinian controlled areas of the city. Israeli Government authorities were cited as estimating that 20,000 workers would be affected. The editor of the Herald explained that this usage of Israeli statistics and the focus on the "Holy Land" had determined the use of the tag "Israel". In reporting the wider conflict, "Middle East" would be used. The Press Council accepts that editors may often wish to diversify their news pages with labels to identify the general locale or subject of a story and that this usage is not to be confused with headlines as such. Headlines, as the Council has often noted, should bear a direct relationship to the story. In this case the actual headline was germane to the story; the identifying tag was not. The Council saw the use of the word, "Israel", as a kind of geographical designator for the article, not as a political statement.

While recognising the concerns of the Palestine Human Rights Campaign, the Press Council does not uphold the complaint.