Clauses Noted: 1
Publication: The Guardian
Simon Plosker of Honest Reporting complained to the Press Complaints Commission, through Asserson Law Offices, that an item in the Corrections and clarifications column of The Guardian, published on 22 April 2012, was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors' Code of Practice.
The newspaper had failed to take care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information in breach of Clause 1 (i), but had taken sufficient action to remedy the breach.
The newspaper had published a photograph depicting passengers on a tram in Jerusalem which the caption described as the Israeli capital. The item under complaint, which was subsequently published by the newspaper, said that the caption had "wrongly referred to the city as the Israeli capital" and explained that "The Guardian style guide states: "Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel; Tel Aviv is".
The complainant accepted that Jerusalem's status as Israel's capital was arguable, but complained that it was inaccurate to state that Tel Aviv is the capital. The Commission initially reached the view that there was no prima facie breach of the Code, but agreed to seek comments from the newspaper in relation to a number of further points made by the complainant.
The complainant raised a number of points including that the three branches of Israel's central government - the legislature, primary executive offices and the supreme court - were located in Jerusalem, and that the Basic Law passed in 1980 by the Israeli Knesset had decreed that "Jerusalem...is the capital of Israel".
The newspaper, in response, referred to the United Nations Security Council's response to the Basic Law and to the resolution which it passed condemning the change of Jerusalem's status and calling on member states to withdraw their diplomatic missions from the city. It noted that most countries who enjoyed diplomatic relations with Israel located their embassies in Tel Aviv and explained that it had relied upon references which said that Tel Aviv was "regarded by the international community as the capital of Israel" and that "the UN and international law continues to consider the pre-1950 capital Tel Aviv to be the capital". Nonetheless, it accepted that the dispute over the status of Jerusalem did not mean that it was accurate to describe Tel Aviv as Israel's capital. The newspaper, therefore, published a further correction, in which it provided some background to the history of the dispute over the status of Jerusalem and acknowledged that "it [was] wrong to state that Tel Aviv - the country's financial and diplomatic centre - is the capital". The further correction also noted that the newspaper's style guide entry had been revised.
The complainant considered that the second correction had focussed inappropriately on the legal status of Jerusalem, which he considered to be a separate issue. The complainant also felt that the correction was deficient because he did not accept that Tel Aviv is Israel's diplomatic centre. He was also concerned that the further correction had not been published with "due prominence" and asked the Commission to come to a view on the matter.
Under the terms of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors' Code of Practice, newspapers must take care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information, and must correct a significant inaccuracy or misleading statement promptly and with due prominence.
This was a highly unusual complaint for a number of reasons, not least that the material under complaint was itself a correction.
The Commission acknowledged the debate, which is highly contentious, surrounding the status of Jerusalem. In light of this debate and the fact - which was not in dispute - that the majority of foreign embassies are based in Tel Aviv, the Commission had initially reached the view that the newspaper's description of Tel Aviv as the capital of Israel had not raised an issue under the Code. However, having considered the further submissions from the complainant, the Commission concluded that, notwithstanding the references upon which the newspaper had relied, the unequivocal statement that Tel Aviv is the capital of Israel had the potential to mislead readers and raised a breach of Clause 1 (i) of the Editors' Code of Practice.
It was, therefore, necessary for the newspaper to publish a correction "promptly and with due prominence", as required by Clause 1 (ii) of the Code. The published correction accepted that it was wrong to describe Tel Aviv as the capital of Israel. The Commission noted the complainant's concern that the correction had focused excessively on the status of Jerusalem, which he considered to be an unconnected issue, and that he did not accept the newspaper's description of Tel Aviv as the country's financial and diplomatic centre (points which the Commission felt were open to debate). However, the Commission considered that the newspaper had been entitled to explain the wider context to readers while fulfilling its obligations under the Code, and concluded that the published correction was sufficient to address the inaccuracy of the original statement. The Commission also concluded that the correction had been published with due prominence, noting that it appeared in the newspaper's Corrections and clarifications column, the same location where the item under complaint had originally appeared.
There were no further issues to pursue under the terms of the Code.
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