Decision of the Complaints Committee 08981-16 Lustigman v The Times
Summary of complaint
1. Anthony Lustigman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Hopes of peace may have been buried with Peres”, published on 1 October 2016.
2. The article was published the day after the funeral of Shimon Peres, the former Israeli president. It said that Mr Peres had become “Israel’s most outspoken supporter of a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians”, and his death had left the “wilting Israeli peace camp without a single prominent leader”. It said that the leaders of the centre-left considered peace to be a “losing issue with an increasingly hawkish Israeli public”. It said that a recent poll had found that slim majorities of Israelis and Palestinians endorsed a two-state peace plan, but only in the abstract. When presented with the details, support fell to 20 per cent among Israeli Jews and 35 per cent for Palestinians. The article said that Israelis had consistently chosen right-wing parties for most of the past 30 years.
3. The complainant said that the newspaper had failed to identify the poll it had referred to, and it had inaccurately reported its findings. He said that 58 per cent of Israelis had endorsed a two-state peace plan in the abstract, and support had not fallen to 20 per cent when respondents were presented with the details. He said the reporter had used the statistic in order to support his assertions regarding “right-wing” Israeli politicians and the “hawkish Israeli public”.
4. The newspaper did not consider that the article was inaccurate. It said that the poll it had referred to had been carried out in June 2016 by the Israel Democracy Institute and the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research, and it provided a copy. It said the brief reference was made to illustrate the article’s main point, that the prospects for peace in the region were not encouraging, particularly after Mr Peres’ death.
5. The newspaper said that it had accurately reported that the poll had found that 51.3 per cent of Palestinians and 53.4 per cent of Israeli Jews expressed support for a two-state solution when presented with it in the abstract. Having been given the details of that solution, the poll found that only 39.4 per cent of Palestinians and 38.6 per cent of Israeli Jews expressed personal support. The poll then asked respondents whether they thought that majority opinion within their own community was in favour of such a solution; only 35.2 per cent of Palestinians and 20.4 per cent of Israeli Jews thought that there would be majority support within their own community. The newspaper noted that the poll had not contained an equivalent question for expectation-based polling on the abstract plan.
6. The newspaper said that it had reported the 20 per cent figure, rather than the figure for respondents expressing personal support, because there is a body of academic research and a strong sense among polling experts that “expectation-based polling” is more reliable than asking people for their personal views; and it referred to various studies to support this position. On this basis, the newspaper had considered that reporting the 20 per cent figure was likely to be a more accurate indicator of actual support levels than the 38.6 per cent of Israeli Jews who had expressed personal support. It also noted that both percentages indicated that support had fallen to a minority of respondents when the details of the plan were explained; it considered that either of these percentages would have illustrated the article’s main point that the Israeli public were increasingly “hawkish” and that “hopes of peace may have been buried with Peres”.
7. The newspaper noted that it could have compared the personal preference figure in both cases, disregarding the expectation-based figure on the detailed plan, which it said was arguably more accurate. This would have shown that the slim majority in favour of the abstract plan had fallen to 38.6 per cent among Israeli Jews once the details had been considered. The newspaper offered to make these amendments to the article, and in order to clarify how the statistics were derived, it also offered to publish the following clarification in its established Corrections & Clarifications column and appended to the online article:
We reported (News, Oct 1) that a recent poll had found that slim majorities of Israelis and Palestinians endorse a two-state solution in the abstract, but that support falls to 20 per cent among Israeli Jews and 35 per cent for Palestinians when presented with the details of a peace plan. We have been asked to make clear that these were the percentages of respondents who, after hearing details of a two-state solution, thought there was majority support in their own community for such a settlement. The percentages of Palestinians and Israeli Jews still expressing personal support for a two-state solution after being questioned on the detail were, respectively, 39.4 and 38.6. The poll was conducted jointly by the Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem and the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah.
8. The complainant considered that the article had failed to make clear that the 20 per cent figure related to how respondents thought their community would respond to the detailed two-state plan; as such, the clarification was insufficient.
Relevant Code provisions
9. 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 Complaints Committee
10. The poll found that 51 per cent of Palestinians and 53.4 per cent of Israeli Jews personally supported a two-state peace plan in the abstract. When presented with the details of the plan, it found that personal support fell to 38.6 of Israeli Jews and 39.4 per cent of Palestinians.
11. The poll also asked respondents what they believed their community’s view would be on the detailed plan, and it found that 20.4 per cent of Israeli Jews believed their community would support it, compared with 35.2 per cent of Palestinians who believed their community would support it. Respondents were not asked an equivalent “expectation-based” question on the abstract plan.
12. Given the results when respondents were asked whether they personally supported an abstract two-state plan, it was not significantly misleading for the newspaper to state that the poll had found that “slim majorities” of Israelis and Palestinians supported a two-state solution in the abstract.
13. The newspaper had then compared the statistics for respondents’ personal views on the abstract plan with their position on whether their community would support the detailed plan. The Committee acknowledged the newspaper’s position that expectation-based polling is widely considered to be more accurate, but it was concerned that the article had failed to make the basis for these statistics clear. It also noted that the figures for respondents’ personal views on both the abstract and detailed plans were available to the newspaper.
14. While the Committee wished to note that it is important that newspapers take care to accurately report statistics, in the context of this article, which was not an examination of the poll’s results, but a discussion of the prospects for peace in the region following Shimon Peres’ death, it did not consider that the brief reference to the poll had been significantly misleading. While the article had not stated that 20 per cent represented Israeli Jewish views on their community’s position, a comparison between the figures for personal views on both the abstract and detailed plans would still have supported the article’s main point. The comparison the newspaper had made between the figures did not represent a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article in breach of Clause 1.
15. While the Committee did not find a breach of the Code in this instance, it welcomed the newspaper’s offer to amend the article in order to clarify the basis for the statistics.
16. The complaint was not upheld.
Date complaint received: 10/10/2016
Date decision issued: 09/01/2017
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