SBS apologise for a breach of code

August 4, 2019 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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SBS has deleted a story from its Arabic24 website relating to a news item published on  June 3 online and on radio claiming that Israeli settlers had “stormed” the Al-Aqsa Mosque the previous day.

The misleading headline “Ramallah Israeli settlers storm Al-Aqsa Mosque” resulted in a complaint to SBS from The Executive Council of Australian Jewry.

As the headline indicates, this news story falsely claimed that “Israeli settlers” had “stormed” the Al-Aqsa mosque on June 2. In fact, Jews around the world were celebrating “Jerusalem Day”, the anniversary of the unification of the city in 1967. The group were not “Israeli settlers” but Jewish visitors under police supervision. They did not enter the al Aqsa mosque at all, let alone “storm” it. They peacefully entered the Temple Mount area as permitted by the status quo agreement which allows for non-Muslim visitors at set visiting times. Subsequently, some Palestinians initiated a riot after being incited by false stories that the mosque had been “stormed”.

Other media which carried that false story have corrected it: Under SBS Code of practice 2.2, SBS is similarly obliged to take reasonable steps to ensure the timely correction of significant errors of fact. The correction should not only be done online but should also be broadcast in Arabic on the same radio program, with an apology.

2.2 Accuracy, impartiality and balance

In a statement the ECAJ said: “SBS is committed to achieving the highest standard of news and current affairs presentation. To this end, a reasonable effort must be made to ensure that the factual content of news and current affairs programs is accurate, having regard to the circumstances, and facts known, at the time of preparing and broadcasting or publishing the content.

SBS will take reasonable steps to ensure timely correction of significant errors of fact.

The requirement for accuracy does not mean that an exhaustive coverage of all factual material relating to matters broadcast or published must be presented.

While the emphasis in news is the reporting of factual information, news content, as well as current affairs content, may include comment and analysis.

Reasonable effort should be made to ensure news and current affairs content is balanced and impartial, having regard to the circumstances at the time of reporting and broadcasting or publishing, the nature and immediacy of the material being reported, and public interest considerations.

The commitment to balance and impartiality requires SBS to present – over time and across the schedule of content broadcast or published on the relevant service (Television, Radio or Online and Emerging Platforms) – a wide range of significant views, not misrepresenting them or unduly favouring one over another.

It does not require SBS to present all viewpoints on an issue or to allocate equal time to different points of view.

Neither does it preclude a critical examination of controversial issues or the expression of critical and provocative points of view.

The decision as to whether it is appropriate for a range of views or particular views to be included within a single program or story is a matter for editorial discretion.

In relation to news content, for major issues that are matters of controversy, balance should be provided over the period in which the controversy is active. Balance will be provided through the presentation, as far as possible, of principal relevant viewpoints.

SBS has a policy of self-identification (see Code 1.5) and does not arbitrate on the validity of territorial claims.

SBS journalists should identify themselves and SBS before proceeding with an interview for broadcast or publication.”

Following an investigation SBS replied to the ECAJ:

“The content was found to have breached the code requirements for accuracy, in relation to the use of the word “settlers” in the radio segment and online, and the use of the word “storm” on the Arabic24 website.

This headline was an unattributed quote from an AFP Arabic report which was the source of the story by SBS Arabic24 on 3 June.”

The English translation of that quote is: ‘The director of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Sheikh Omar al-Kiswani, said that about 1,200 “settlers broke [storm] into the mosque.’

SBS pointed out the offending headline was accompanied by a photo on the Arabic24 webpage showing Israel nationalists walking past the Al-Aqsa mosque. The caption to the photo states ‘Israelis walk by the Dome of the Rock Mosque in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s old city’ and this provided some context to the reporting of the event.

Nevertheless, the unsourced and unqualified headline failed to meet the accuracy provisions of Code 2.2.

Considering the circumstances on the day, if the program wanted to use this quote it needed to be attributed. The quote apparently referred to the psychological effect of the Jerusalem Day march on the Muslim worshippers at the Al-Aqsa mosque, and not to the conduct of the Israeli marchers.

The SBS World News bulletin of 3 June carried an interview with the Al-Aqsa Mosque Director, Omar al- Kiswani, who said in relation to the march:

They carried out a provocative tour, they sang and laid on the ground, those acts trigger emotional responses from Muslims around the world.

This reaction was similarly reflected on 2 June in the Haaretz newspaper when it reported that:

Jordan’s Minister of Islamic Affairs and Holy Sites, Abdul Nasser Musa Abu Al Basal, issued a statement condemning Israel’s “aggression against those at prayer,” saying it negated international law and etiquette.

The need for attribution was increased as the Arabic phrase “aiqtahamuu almasjid” has two interchangeable meanings either “break into” or “storm.” In the absence of such attribution the quote would have been understood literally. The marchers did not literally storm the mosque as the photograph on the website shows.

From reports in the Israeli media the marchers appear to have been comprised of a variety of Israelis, not all of whom would be settlers.

SBS News online used the headline “Israeli Nationalists Mark Jerusalem Day” to described the event, andSBS World News described the marchers as “ultra-nationalists.”

A NAATI accredited translation of the ‘Correspondent’s View’ report from Ramallah on 3 June was obtained. It shows that the term “settlers” was used once by the SBS journalist and four times by the Ramallah correspondent to refer to the marchers.

This reference to “settlers” was how the marchers were described by the Arab news media on the day, including by Al Jazeera. However, for the reasons provided above, such a reference to the marchers was inaccurate. The Israelis marched to commemorate the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967 and were accurately described by SBS World News and SBS News online as “nationalists.”

SBS apologises for this breach of the code.


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