The Australian Press Council has considered complaints by Dale Mills and Vivienne Porszolt about headlines on articles in The Australian on 28 July 2011 related to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign which is aimed at businesses associated with Israel. One complaint related to the headline on a print article and the other to the headline on the somewhat different online version.
The articles reported a public protest against BDS by a number of people several weeks after a BDS protest against an Israeli-owned chain of confectionery stores which is part of a broader food and beverage company that supplies the Israeli army. The print version was headed Anti-Jew protest condemned and the online version was headed Prominent Australians fight anti-Semitism with hot chocolate. The articles noted that the BDS protest had been condemned as “violent” and “anti-Semitic” and the on-line version added a quote that it had been “anti-Jewish”.
Mr Mills claimed that by describing the BDS protest as “anti-Jew” and “anti-Semitic” the headlines were inaccurate, because it was actually a protest against Israeli government policies. He said that these assertions involved matters of opinion being presented as facts. He also said that the newspaper should have published the letter to the editor in which he sought to correct the inaccuracy.
The newspaper initially said the headlines were accurate because, if the BDS protest was simply anti-Israeli, it should have been targeted at agencies or representatives of the Israeli Government. Mr Mills replied that the organisers live in Melbourne, and there are no Israeli government agencies in that city.
The newspaper added that concerns about the anti-Jewish nature of the protest, together with the accompanying violence, were at the heart of the story’s newsworthiness. It subsequently informed the Council, however, that since these articles appeared it had clarified that the BDS campaign should not be described as “anti-Jew” and had advised its staff accordingly.
The Council has concluded that the headline on the print version, Anti-Jew protest condemned, was a clear breach of the Council’s Standards of Practice because it reported a matter of opinion as if a fact. It also failed to reasonably convey the tenor of the article itself, in which the original demonstration was described as “anti-Israel” but not as “anti-Jew”. Accordingly, the complaint against the headline is upheld on both these grounds.
The Council has concluded that the headline on the online version, Prominent Australians fight anti-Semitism with hot chocolate, is reasonably capable of being read as a description of the prominent Australians’ opinions, rather than a statement of fact. This interpretation also means that the headline fairly reflects the tenor of the online version especially as, unlike the print version, it included a quote that the campaign was “not anti-Israel but anti-Jewish”. On balance, therefore, the complaint against the online headline is not upheld.
Note (not required for publication by the newspaper):
This adjudication applies the Council’s General Principle 1: “Publications should take reasonable steps to ensure reports are accurate, fair and balanced. They should not deliberately mislead or misinform readers either by omission or commission”. It also applies part of General Principle 6:” … headlines and captions should fairly reflect the tenor of an article”.