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The Press Council has considered a complaint about an article headed, “Chaos in Gaza as Israel steps up bombardment” published on the website of The Age on 21 November 2012. It was written by a journalist in Gaza and the description of recent fighting included a statement that “Israel also stepped up its attacks on journalists in Gaza for the third day in a row”.
The complainant said that this statement was inaccurate as the article provided no substantiation for the claim that journalists, rather than buildings or infrastructure, had been deliberately targeted.
The publication said that there were at least four separate Israeli military strikes on journalists and media facilities during the November conflict. One hit a car (marked “Press” and “TV”) and killed the two occupants, who were television cameramen. Another hit the roof of a building, including the base of an antenna tower, and also caused damage and injury in the top floor which was occupied by two Palestinian media organisations. A third strike also hit the roof of a building, damaging the base of an antenna tower and studios of a Palestinian television station and a fourth hit the floor of a building in which were the offices of a Palestinian media organisation.
The publication said the Israeli government did not respond directly to the journalist’s request for comment on these incidents. However, materials it provided showed that comments by a government spokesperson were published promptly on various websites and in a broadcast on the television station, al Jazeera (English). The spokesperson said some of the strikes had been aimed at, and directly hit, antennae on the tops of the buildings which were being used by the Palestinian organisation, Hamas, for command and control as well as communications purposes. He said that Israel does not target journalists, and that some of the media workers could not be regarded as “legitimate journalists” because they were actively assisting Hamas operations.
The Council’s principles require that a publication take reasonable steps to ensure the accuracy, fairness and balance of reports. Expectations of the steps to be taken in this instance must take account of the fact that the journalist was in an active combat zone. Despite the dangerous circumstances, she visited two of the affected buildings to observe the damage and injuries. She also sought comment from the Israeli government.
The Council considers that, while some strikes may have been principally targeted at communications infrastructure, there were reasonable grounds for concluding that journalists had been the target of at least some of the attacks. Accordingly, the complaint is not upheld.
This adjudication applies part of General Principle 1: “Publications should take reasonable steps to ensure reports are accurate, fair and balanced.”