Decision of the Complaints Committee 02296-14 Evans v South Wales Echo
Summary of complaint
Summary of complaint
1. Jean Evans complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the South Wales Echo had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in two readers’ letters published with the headlines “Rathbone was right about Palestine” and “Will there ever be justice for Palestine” on 27 September 2014 and 13 November 2014, respectively.
2. The complainant was concerned that the letters had contained factual inaccuracies. The letter of 27 September had quoted a claim made by a previous contributor, “[Israel] unfortunately not satisfied with the creation of the Israeli State – many migrating from the US continue to seize land inside the West Bank, all with support of the Israeli Army”. The complainant was concerned that this gave the inaccurate impression that that hordes of Americans were ushered in by the Israeli Army and had robbed Palestinians of land. She said that Jewish people, under international law, are allowed to settle in territory gained by war as long as the indigenous population is not removed. She said that the army was not involved. She also said that the letter had inaccurately referred to the Arab/ Israeli war as having been fought in 1966 rather than 1967.
3. The complainant was concerned that the letter of 13 November inaccurately said that Israel had built a wall around Gaza. She said that only two of Gaza’s borders are adjacent to Israel; an electronic barrier is not the same as a wall, and it was misleading to compare the border fence to the Polish ghetto as the letter writer had done. The complainant also said that it was misleading to say that Israel had taken land by force and refused to give it back; Israel had offered the Arab League land for peace in 1967.
4. The complainant was concerned that the newspaper had not published any letters which rebutted the alleged inaccuracies.
5. The newspaper said that it was entitled to publish whatever letters it wished; the inclusion of letters is a matter of editorial discretion and it has the right to accept or dismiss political views and historical interpretations. It did not accept that the claim in the 13 November letter that there was a “wall” around Gaza was significantly inaccurate; there is clearly a barrier, and the point that the writer was making was that there was separation between the areas.
6. It accepted that the date of the war was inaccurate in the letter of 27 September. It offered to publish the following correction to address this concern: “Following a recent letter published on the letters page, we are happy to make clear that the Israeli Arab six day war took place in June 1967 and not 1966”.
Relevant Code Provisions
7. Clause 1 (Accuracy)
i) The press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.
ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and – where appropriate – an apology published.
iii) The Press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
Findings of the Committee
8. The publication of readers’ letters is an established means of providing a forum for a variety of opinions and stimulating debate. Under the terms of the Code, newspapers maintain an obligation to ensure that comment and conjecture is distinguished from fact, and that the material is not significantly inaccurate or misleading. Both contributions had been clearly distinguished as readers’ letters; the suggestion, in the letter of 27 September that land had been seized inside the West Bank with the support of the army, and the description of the security fence as a “wall” around Gaza, in the letter of 13 November, represented the robust and controversial views of the authors on highly politicised and widely disputed issues. It was clear that these issues remained matters of significant debate, rather than undisputed assertions of fact. In this context, there had not been a failure to distinguish comment from fact, and the publication of the views had not been significantly misleading.
9. The reference to the “1966 war”, in the letter of the 27 September, was not in this context a significant inaccuracy such as to require correction under the terms of the Code. Nonetheless, the Committee welcomed the newspaper’s offer to publish a correction on this point.
10. The selection of material for publication is a matter for the discretion of individual editors, provided that such editorial decisions did not engage the terms of the Editors’ Code. The concern that the newspaper had decided not to publish material which disputed the accuracy of the letters under complaint did not raise a breach of the Code.
11. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 11/12/2014
Date decision issued: 18/03/2015Back to ruling listing