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The Press Complaints Commission: How ‘high’ is high?

This is a guest post by Jonathan Hoffman
 
I complained to the Press Complaints Commission about an article by John Pilger that appeared in The Guardian on 2 July 2008. The article said that “Israel is high in an international league table for its murder of journalists …”
 
In my view this statement was untrue, on any reasonable interpretation of the word “high”:
 
1. The 2007 report “Killing the Messenger” published by the International News Safety Institute places Israel/Occupied Territories 23rd in a list of 96 countries in which journalists and media support workers died in violent circumstances since 1996. 23rd is not “high” and in any case the data include deaths from all causes – not just murders. For example, they include deaths from road accidents and from crossfire.
 
2. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) puts Israel 19th in a list headed “Top 20 countries” in its web report about journalists killed since 1992. This is not “high” and in any case the data include deaths from all causes – not just murders. For example, they include deaths from road accidents and from crossfire.
 
3. In the “Killing The Messenger” report, the number of deaths in Israel/Occupied territories, at 12, was less than 2 above the average (10.4) for the 96 countries. This is hardly “high” — on any reasonable definition of the word.
 
The provisions of the PCC’s Code on inaccuracy are as follows:
 
i) “the press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures”; and
 
ii) “a significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence and- where appropriate – an apology published.”  
 
I had already been in long correspondence with the readers’ editor of The Guardian. (Thank you Siobhain and happy Christmas, you were invariably courteous, friendly and as helpful as possible). This was what they printed: 

A comment piece (From Triumph to Torture, page 30, July 2) said that Israel is high in an international league table for its murder of journalists. The writer referred us to the 2007 report “Killing the Messenger” published by the International News Safety Institute and to information published by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). CPJ puts Israel 19th in a list headed “Top 20 countries” in its web report about journalists killed since 1992 and “Killing the Messenger” places Israel/Occupied Territories 23rd in a list of 96 countries in which journalists and media support workers died in violent circumstances since 1996, but neither of those sources is concerned exclusively with murder. They include deaths from other causes.
 
Both sources report the death of film-maker James Miller in 2003. In 2006 the jury in a British inquest found he had been deliberately shot and returned a verdict of unlawful killing. CPJ’s database categorises five other deaths of journalists as “crossfire/combat-related” but it does not classify them as murder. In April this year CPJ published “Getting Away With Murder”, which ranks countries where killers of journalists have gone unpunished. Israel is not one of the thirteen countries included in that index.
 

My complaint to the PCC was that this text is unacceptable since it is not a “correction”, as the PCC Code requires. It is a mere amplification which will lead the diligent reader to realise that the statement “Israel is high in an international league table for its murder of journalists” is wrong. But providing sources – from which a diligent and time-rich reader can deduce the fallacy of a statement — is surely not the same as publishing a “correction”.
 
I argued that the following words should be included: “Although there are allegations of deliberate killings and one verdict of ‘unlawful killing’, there is no undisputed case of murder”. In my judgment that would have been sufficient as a “correction”. But this was not accepted.
 
The PCC has heard the case. They have decided that ‘the remedial action …. was sufficient as a response to the complaint under the Code’.
 

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