Case Number: 1038

Council Meeting: OCTOBER 2005

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Press

Ruling Categories: Balance, Lack Of

Wesley Parish complained to the Press Council on 3 September about what he described as “one-sided and bigoted reporting of a major trouble spot in the world” by The Press. He claimed eight articles published during August mainly focussing on the anguish of Jewish settlers forced to evacuate from Gaza represented “excessive coverage of one side of a particular conflict.” It should be noted that Mr Parish also acknowledged that two other reports that month had looked at issues from a Palestinian perspective.

The Press Council does not uphold the complaint.

Mr Parish asserted that coverage in The Press of what he called the Gaza Disengagement Farce “amounts to bad faith in presenting the news.” He cited Press Council principles relating to accuracy and discrimination. In support of his particular contentions about reporting in The Press he forwarded a telling critique of the failure of Western media to represent the Palestinian and/or Arab viewpoints, by Jennifer Lowenstein.

Two reports from the Palestinian corner as against eight mainly representing Jewish points of view may not appear to be balanced coverage of the Gaza withdrawal. But the issues as to journalistic responsibilities in matters of this kind are not as simple as that. As the Editor of The Press points out, the newspaper has been covering Middle Eastern events and issues for many years. A survey of reporting during a single month is not a reasonable measure of balance or fairness. Moreover it could be argued that coverage which focuses on the drama of Jewish settlers obliged to leave their homes implicitly acknowledges the other side of the story. Jewish settlers’ pain was Palestinian gain, as the two stories giving a Palestinian perspective made clear. Evacuation of Jewish settlements from Gaza was a major development in the long-running agony of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. As such it became a global media event. The focus was inevitably going to be on what was most newsworthy and dramatic – uprooting established homes and the intransigence of those proposing to defy the order to leave.

It is understandable that readers with particular interests in particular issues should feel thwarted by reporting which they find fails to do justice to their point of view. The Press Council, in its 2004 Annual Report, noted that many complainants approached “the Council as a sort of court of last resort able to uphold this or that perspective against reporting they see as unfair or unbalanced.” It was pointed out that “newspapers are about news; space and time do not allow weighing of every shred of evidence or the production of an academic treatise. For that readers must resort to a library.”

There is another consideration. New Zealand newspapers are not, on the whole, able to maintain their own sources of reporting major international issues. Resources are severely constrained by the size of the local market. Accordingly they must rely on established overseas agencies for much of their copy. This The Press clearly did in publishing the reports of which Mr Parish complains – as with the two reports supportive of his point of view. As the Editor points out, a range of agencies supplied the August reports. The various agencies offer differing perspectives. Certainly in a matter of such complexity, in which opinion is often so bitterly at odds, the aim should be to consider all feasible sources of news and views.

The Lowenstein article claims there is a systemic failure on the part of Western media to take the Arab viewpoint into account. A single New Zealand newspaper cannot be expected to correct any such trend, if indeed it exists, when its own resources for coverage of a major international happening like the Gaza withdrawal are strictly limited. Events in Gaza generated almost feverish international media interest mainly because an Israeli government was implementing a policy deeply unpopular with many Israelis. In the circumstances it is not surprising that in this case the focus of news agency reporting should have been on the impact of this policy on Israelis. The Press is not to be faulted for reflecting such interest.

The articles cited by Mr Parish were news reports arising out of a single development in a long and bitter saga and do not, in the opinion of the Press Council, support his contention that The Press contravened Principle 1 as to fairness . Such reports, sourced and clearly marked as such from overseas agencies, are not to be equated with editorial opinion. As for Principle 3 relating to discrimination there is nothing to suggest bias or a deliberate slighting of the Palestinian point of view or cause.

The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson (Chairman), Lynn Scott, Aroha Puata, Ruth Buddicom, Alan Samson, Denis McLean, John Gardner, Terry Snow, Keith Lees and Clive Lind.