Decision of the Complaints Committee 09489-16 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 “Israel approves dozens of settlements”, published in print on 7 December 2016, and “Israel approves dozens of illegal settlements on West Bank”, published online on 7 December 2016.
2. The article reported that the Israeli Parliament had voted to approve thousands of homes built illegally in the West Bank over the past 20 years. It went on to report that “all of Israel’s settlements are illegal under international law”, but said that this bill focused on settlements “illegitimate even under Israeli law because they were built without authorisation”.
3. The headline aside, the online article was the same as the print version.
4. The complainant said that it was inaccurate to report that “all of Israel’s settlements are illegal under international law”; he said this was a matter of opinion, and had no legal basis. He said that no properly constituted court, with jurisdiction, had ever decided on the legality or otherwise of the settlements. He said that the opinion of United Nations bodies, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on this matter were not legally binding. He also referred to a report from the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, which concluded that Israel is entitled, under international law, “to continue the settlement of the territories of Judea and Samira”.
5. The newspaper said that since the settlements were first established, the international community has been more or less unanimous in condemning them as “illegal” and “illegitimate”. It highlighted the advisory opinion issued by the ICJ to the UN General Assembly which found that the settlements had been established “in breach of international law”. It also said that the United Nations Security Council had declared the settlements to be in breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention. It referenced Security Council Resolution 446, which said that “the policy and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967 have no legal validity”; Resolution 452 which said “the policy of Israel in establishing settlements in the occupied Arab territories has no legal validity and constitutes a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention”; and Resolution 476 which said that “all legislative and administration measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying Power, which purport to alter the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal validity and constitute a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention”.
Relevant Code Provisions
6. 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.
Findings of the Committee
7. The newspaper had principally relied on the ICJ advisory opinion on the Israeli settlements, which concluded that “the Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (including East Jerusalem) have been established in breach of international law”, to support its position that the settlements were illegal. The newspaper was entitled to take this as an authoritative source of international law, notwithstanding the complainant’s position that the decision was not binding by virtue of it having been issued as part of the court’s advisory jurisdiction. In relying on the court’s determination, as well as the resolutions passed by the Security Council of the United Nations, there was no breach of Clause 1(i) on the newspaper’s part. Further, this was a sufficient basis for describing the settlements as “illegal” under international law. In the absence of any significant inaccuracy, there was no breach of Clause 1(ii).
8. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 15/11/2016
Date decision issued: 23/02/2017
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