The Press Council has considered a complaint about an article in The Sunday Mail on 2 December 2012, a few days after the decision of the United Nations General Assembly to admit Palestine as a non-member observer state.
The article reported the call by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas for Israel to resume peace talks, along with his criticisms of Israel’s announcement of further settlements. It said “Mr Abbas’s statements were supported by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was also quick to condemn Israel’s decision in a speech attended by top Israeli officials”. It quoted Mrs Clinton as follows: “In light of today’s announcement, let me reiterate that this administration – like previous administrations – has been very clear with Israel that these activities set back the cause of a negotiated peace”.
Libby Burke complained that the article unfairly represented Hillary Clinton’s speech, which had been overwhelmingly supportive of Israel. In addition, the quoted remark was made part-way through the speech and was closely linked to a point about the United States’ opposition to Palestine being recognised as a non-member state at the United Nations. She said the article was unbalanced because it lacked the perspective of the Israeli Government.
The publication said the article was not a report of Mrs Clinton’s speech as such, but a report on the latest developments in the story about Palestine’s admission to the United Nations and reactions to that event. The quote from Mrs Clinton was the most newsworthy and significant aspect of the speech because it represented a departure from the usual position of the United States. It said that it had regularly reported on aspects of the conflict between Israel and Palestine, citing the United States’ support for Israel. This support was so widely known that it did not need to be repeated in each article.
The Council’s principles require that publications must take reasonable steps to ensure that reports are fair and balanced. However, the Council does not necessarily require each news report on a particular topic to provide a fair and balanced overview of that topic. In a recent adjudication the Council noted, “this applies especially where the report is principally describing a new development in a long-running topic”. That principle applies in this case, where the new development was Mrs Clinton’s criticism. As the US vote two days earlier against the UN resolution had been promptly reported in The Courier Mail (the publication’s Monday-Saturday edition) and the general US support for Israel had been reported by it on many occasions over a lengthy period, the Council has concluded that omission of those matters from this article did not result in it being unfair or unbalanced.
In relation to the article’s use of the expression “quick to condemn”, the word “quick” could be interpreted as Mrs Clinton having made her criticism the initial and central point of her speech. But it could also be regarded as a reference to her comment having been made on the same day as the announcement of Israel’s decision to build additional settlements.
Accordingly, the complaint is not upheld.
Relevant Council Standards
(not required for publication by the newspaper):
This adjudication applies part of General Principle 1: “Publications should take reasonable steps to ensure reports are accurate, fair and balanced.”