Decision of the Complaints Committee – 04418-18 Raphael v Daily Mail
Summary of Complaint
1. Chaya Raphael complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “The minefield Prince William must tiptoe through today” published on 27 June 2018.
2. The article was a comment piece, in which the author set out the challenges which Prince William would face on his official visit to Israel. It referred to Palestinians being “forced to live in squalid conditions in Gaza and the West Bank”. With reference to this situation, the article said that “in an unequivocal breach of international law, Israeli settlers have taken much of the best agricultural land, while depriving the Palestinians of water supplies and, all too often – I have witnessed this for myself – burning their olive groves and poisoning their wells”. The article appeared online under the same headline in substantially the same format.
3. The complainant said that the article was misleading in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy). She had originally contacted the publication to dispute the article’s account of Israeli settlers depriving Palestinians of water, and to disagree with what she considered to be the repetition of an antisemitic trope in relation to the poisoning of wells. In response to this, the publication had told her that the author’s account of the poisoning of wells had been based on “previous reports – including first-hand accounts”. She therefore considered that the article was misleading because it stated that the author had “witnessed” this for himself, when he had in fact relied on other sources.
4. The publication denied any breach of the Code, and said that its columnist stood by his account as set out in the article. It said that, on a visit to the West Bank in 2011, the columnist had seen burning olive groves; this had been blamed by Palestinians on settlers. Later, in early 2013, he saw a well, which locals said was poisoned by settlers. The publication said that the columnist had no reason to doubt the veracity of this information. It also referred to a number of other articles and accounts concerning well-poisoning and the burning of olive groves. The publication said that the columnist was entitled to share his experiences, where they were clearly presented as such, and the complainant was not in a position to dispute them. It also said that the columnist denied any awareness of any antisemitic connotations regarding the issue of well poisoning.
5. The complainant said that the publication had conceded that the columnist had not seen the acts referred to taking place; he had relied on locals’ accounts and therefore on hearsay. She said that the article was therefore misleading.
6. The publication said that the complaint centred on a detail which was a minor piece of background information in a detailed column setting out the columnist’s views on Prince William’s visit to Israel. The reference to the columnist “witnessing” the events was not significant in that context.
Relevant Code Provisions
7. Clause 1 (Accuracy)
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.
ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.
iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.
iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
Findings of the Committee
8. The article was clearly presented as a comment piece, in which the columnist gave his views on the royal visit to Israel. As part of this account, the columnist referenced allegations about the activity of Israeli settlers, stating that they “have taken much of the best agricultural land, while depriving the Palestinians of water supplies and, all too often – I have witnessed this for myself – burning their olive groves and poisoning their wells”. It was not in dispute that similar allegations had been made elsewhere, and the publication had referred to several reports of such activities from sources that it considered to be reputable. However, the crux of this complaint was whether it was accurate for the article to state that the columnist had “witnessed” these actions for himself. In response to the complaint, the columnist was able to refer to specific visits to the West Bank where he had seen an olive grove burning, and seen a well which he was told was poisoned; in both cases, he had been told that Israeli settlers were responsible. The term “witness” has a spectrum of meanings, and should not be interpreted so narrowly as to restrict the rights of columnists, particularly those reporting from foreign countries, to provide an account of their personal experiences. The Committee considered that the claim to have “witnessed” could be interpreted broadly – to indicate having seen the effects of the activity, and to have attributed the activity to one party based on prior knowledge and verbal accounts. The complainant was essentially questioning the columnist’s choice to believe the accounts he had heard. In the context of a comment piece, which was clearly presented as such, and where the columnist was able to refer to specific instances to support his position, and to other reports of a similar nature, there was no failure to take care over his claim to have “witnessed” the acts referred to, in breach of Clause 1(i), and no significantly misleading impression was created that required correction under Clause 1(ii).
9. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial action required
Date complaint received: 12/07/2018
Date decision issued: 16/10/2018Back to ruling listing