Rodney Mazinter vs Cape Times

Complainant: Rodney Mazinter

Lodged by: Rodney Mazinter

Article: Apartheid policies: Israeli poll reveals a ‘sick society’

Author of article: Catrina Swart

Date: 16 April 2013

Respondent: Cape Times

Complaint

Mr Rodney Mazinter complains about a story in the Cape Times on 25 October 2013, headlined Apartheid policies: Israeli poll reveals a ‘sick society’.

Mazinter complains that the Cape Times did not publish a correction to the statement that most Israeli Jews supported an apartheid regime in Israel, which proved that it had “engaged in a blatant act of propaganda” and thereby transgressed various sections of the Press Code.

Analysis

The story, written by Catrina Swart of The Independent (in Britain), said that a new poll had “revealed that a majority of Israeli Jews believed that the Jewish state practices ‘apartheid’ against Palestinians…” It continued to quote some other statistics, emanating from the poll.

Swart reported on an article by Gideon Levy published in the Israeli publication Ha’aretz.

No correction

The story read: “A new poll has revealed that a majority of Israeli Jews believe that the Jewish state practices ‘apartheid’ against Palestinians… That many Jews believe that Israel has adopted ‘apartheid’ policies… Nearly 70 percent of those questioned would object to the 2.5 million Palestinians living in the West Bank obtaining the vote if Israel was to annex the Palestinian territory, suggesting that they effectively endorse an apartheid regime.”

Following the publication of Levy’s story, Ha’aretz published a correction the day after stating: “CLARIFICATION: The original headline for this piece, ‘Most Israelis support an apartheid regime in Israel,’ did not accurately reflect the findings of the Dialog poll. The question to which most respondents answered in the negative did not relate to the current situation, but to a hypothetical situation in the future: ‘If Israeli annexes territories in Judea and Samaria, should 2.5 million Palestinians be given the right to vote for the Knesset?”

Levy wrote: “My sin was to write: ‘The majority doesn’t want Arabs to vote for the Knesset, Arab neighbors at home or Arab students at school’. The truth…is different: ‘Just’ 33 percent of the respondents said they don’t want Arabs to vote in parliamentary elections, ‘just’ 42 percent wouldn’t want an Arab neighbor’ and about the same proportion said it would bother them if there were an Arab student in their child’s class. Not a majority – just a (large) proportion of Israelis espouse these frightening views.”

Mazinter complains that the Cape Times should have published these corrections.

The newspaper says that it was not able to establish whether or not a factual correction was published by The Independent; “certainly we did not see any such correction on the wires (where it picked up the story in the first place)”. The newspaper states that, had it seen such correction, it would have published it “in line with our policy of correcting any factual error”.

In later correspondence, the Cape Times says that the:

·         clarification by Ha-aretz involved its headline – but says that it did not use the same headline and argues that there was therefore no need to correct that; and

·         story from The Independent, as used by itself, did not make any errors.

The newspaper concludes that it has nothing to correct.

Please note that it is not my task to establish whether or not Israel is an apartheid state. My question is merely a journalistic one: Should the newspaper have corrected the mistakes, as Ha’aretz and Levy did?

Firstly, Cape Times is correct in saying that its headline was different than that of the one in Ha’aretz and that it did not need any correction.

However, its intro was materially the same than that of the headline in Ha’aretz (which the latter publication has corrected). The newspaper should therefore do the same; it should also have reported Levy’s own correction.

Propaganda, bias

Mazinter complains that the newspaper’s neglect to publish a correction was proof of its bias and adds that it “engaged in a blatant act of propaganda”, transgressing various sections of the Press Code.

The Cape Times states that it was unaware of these corrections – even though Mazinter insists that he had informed the newspaper accordingly.

I cannot tell the newspaper that it was aware of the corrections if it tells me it wasn’t – it is possible that it never received Mazinter’s correspondence.

Be that as it may, I believe that the Cape Times should have:

·         known about the corrections; and

·         echoed them.

However, I also take into account that the Cape Times took over the story from The Independent. I accept that the mistake was a bona fide one (on the part of the Cape Times), which means that I do not believe that it engaged in propaganda against the Israeli state, as Mazinter suggests.

An apology would therefore be inappropriate.

Finding

No correction

The Cape Times is in breach of Art. 1.6 of the Press Code that states: “A publication should make amends for publishing information or comment that is found to be inaccurate by printing, promptly and with appropriate prominence, a retraction, correction or explanation.” This goes for the corrections by Ha-aretz as well as Levy.

Propaganda, bias

This part of the complaint is dismissed.

Sanction

The Cape Times is:

·         cautioned for not making the same corrections than that of Ha-aretz and Levy; and

·         directed to publish these corrections.

The newspaper is also directed to publish the following text:

The Press Ombudsman cautioned us for not correcting some false and misleading statements in a story about a recent poll under Israeli Jews about relationships with Palestinians.

These involved the assertions that the majority of Israeli Jews:

·         believed that the Jewish state “was” practicing apartheid – the poll was about a hypothetical situation (in future); and

·         did not want Arabs to vote for the Knesset – it was in fact a minority of them who expressed this view.

We were also directed to correct these mistakes (which we hereby do).

Mr Rodney Mazinter lodged a complaint with the Ombudsman about our story on 25 October 2013, headlined Apartheid policies: Israeli poll reveals a ‘sick society’.

The story, written by Catrina Swart of The Independent (in Britain), said that a new poll had “revealed that a majority of Israeli Jews believed that the Jewish state practices ‘apartheid’ against Palestinians…” It continued to quote some other statistics, emanating from the poll.

Swart reported on an article by Gideon Levy published in the Israeli publication Ha’aretz.

Ombudsman Johan Retief said that it was not his task to establish whether or not Israel was an apartheid state – his question was merely a journalistic one: Should the newspaper have corrected the mistakes, as Ha’aretz and Levy did?

He found that we should have corrected the following, written by Levy himself: “My sin was to write: ‘The majority doesn’t want Arabs to vote for the Knesset, Arab neighbors at home or Arab students at school’. The truth…is different: ‘Just’ 33 percent of the respondents said they don’t want Arabs to vote in parliamentary elections, ‘just’ 42 percent wouldn’t want an Arab neighbor’ and about the same proportion said it would bother them if there were an Arab student in their child’s class. Not a majority – just a (large) proportion of Israelis espouse these frightening views.”

He added that we should have done the same with the correction by Ha’aretz, even though that was about its headline and our heading was different, arguing that our intro “was materially the same than that of the headline in Ha’aretz…”

Retief dismissed the complaint that we were biased and that we were embarking on anti-Israeli propaganda. “An apology would therefore be inappropriate,” he said.

Visit www.presscouncil.org.za for the full finding.

End of text

Appeal

Please note that our Complaints Procedures lay down that within seven days of receipt of this decision, either party may apply for leave to appeal to the Chairperson of the SA Press Adjudication Panel, Judge Bernard Ngoepe, fully setting out the grounds of appeal. He can be contacted at Khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.

Johan Retief

Press Ombudsman