SBS bans “Palestinian lands” and “disputed territories”

September 16, 2009 by J-Wire
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Ethnic broadcaster SBS has instructed its journalists not to use the terms “Palestinian lands” or “disputed territories” in matters relating to the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

In a memo issued by Paul Cutler, Head of News and Current Affairs, journalists were told that the decision had been made by the ombudsman.

The memo states  “Reasonable effort should be made to ensure news and current affairs programs are balanced and impartial “

In making the ruling, the Ombudsman said: “The land concerned remains the subject of protracted and deep dispute and therefore the reasonable viewer could consider that the use of the term “Palestinian Land” indicates a lack of impartiality as required under the Codes.”

The status of Israeli settlements on the West Bank is controversial, and is the subject of ongoing negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

When discussing territory whose status remains the subject of negotiation, care must be taken to ensure that the language used is neutral and cannot be interpreted as being favourable to one side over another.  The best way to achieve this is to describe the geographic location of the settlements e.g. “Israeli settlements on the West Bank” or “Israeli settlements on the outskirts of Jerusalem” or similar.  We should avoid describing them as “on Palestinian land” or “on disputed land”.

But an SBS writer told J-Wire: “We did not know that an Ombudsman even existed and that includes staff members who have been here for ages.”

He told J-Wire that “Palestinian lands” used in reference to the West Bank and East Jerusalem was considered  a “partisan term”. He said: “We have been told to stick to geographical descriptions rather than political. It all seems Orwellian nonsense and the directive has been met with surprise and dismay.”

The journalist told J-Wire “SBS is interested in avoiding complaints”.  The SBS memo, however, clearly states that the new instructions have been implemented to maintain impartiality and fair balance. It also cites Middle East peace talks “gaining momentum”.

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