Drug Libel IV: The Admission of Wrongdoing

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I am happy to report that Israellycool correspondent Dr Sam has managed to help reverse at least some of the damage caused by the ABC’s drug libel, first posted here.

After much procrastinating, the ABC has finally responded to Dr Sam’s complaints and – surprise, surprise – admitted inaccuracies in its broadcast in breach of of the standards outlined in its Code of Practice and Editorial Policies (despite earlier claims that a 90-page document coming from the palestinian equivalent of the bureau of statistics supported the claims made in the report).

Read and enjoy.

Dear Dr Sam

I refer to your emails of 8 and 12 November regarding the AM report
“Palestinians struggle with surge in drug use” broadcast on 7 November.
Once again, I apologise for the delay in responding to your concerns.

In keeping with ABC complaint handling procedures, Audience and Consumer Affairs (ACA) has assessed this broadcast against the requirements of the ABC Code of Practice and Editorial Policies, sought feedback from our News division, considered the information you have provided and, inter alia, the findings of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) report entitled “The phenomenon of Drug Abuse in the Palestinian territory”, produced in liaison with the United Nations Office on Crime and Drugs, and referred to in the broadcast.

Our investigation has concluded that the report contained three factual
inaccuracies, in breach of the standards outlined in clause 3.2 of the
Code. We have found that these inaccuracies,
together with the lack of
substantive comment from the Israeli authorities, has resulted in a
broadcast that does not meet the requirement for balance outlined in
clause 3.5 of the Code, which states:

“3.5 Balance will be sought but may not always be achieved within a
single program or publication; it will be achieved as soon as reasonably practicable and in an appropriate manner
. It is not essential to give all sides equal time. As far as possible, principal relevant views on matters of importance will be presented.”

It is noted on two occasions in the broadcast that the Israeli authorities strongly deny that they are “turning a blind eye to the trafficking of drugs to Palestinians”. However, taking into account the seriousness of the claims made by the drug workers in this report, it is the view of ACA that every reasonable effort should have been made by the reporter to seek substantive comment or an interview with the relevant Israeli authorities. If the Israeli authorities declined an interview, this should have been clearly indicated in the report. We understand that within the Israeli administration, combating drug trafficking is the responsibility of the Israeli Border Police and the Israeli Defence Forces. ABC News has been unable to satisfy us that reasonable efforts were made to approach both agencies for formal comment.

While ACA understands that the reporter contacted Israeli sources who declined to be interviewed for the story, in keeping with clause 5.3.7 of our Editorial Policies, this should have been clearly indicated within the report. As already acknowledged, the ABC’s complaint handling standards have been breached because you did not receive a substantive response within 60 days of submitting your complaint.

I would like to assure you that these breaches of editorial standards have been brought to the attention of ABC News management and will be reported to the ABC Board. The AM online transcript has been amended to correct the factual inaccuracies identified, the audio of the report has been removed from the website and an Editor’s Note has been appended to the transcript which states: “Parts of this story have been amended or omitted and the audio removed to address issues of factual correctness. The story was also found to have lacked balance because there was insufficient opportunity for Israeli authorities to respond. The ABC apologises for these instances of inaccuracy and lack of balance.”

Further, AM will broadcast an on air apology at the end of the program this Thursday morning (28 February) acknowledging the inaccuracies and lack of balance, and listeners will be directed to the corrected transcript of 7 November 2007.

These breaches are explained more fully below, where I address each of the specific points raised in your correspondence:

1. Your complaint questions the accuracy of the statement from Mr Hardaker that “Not so long ago illicit drugs were virtually unheard of in Palestinian life. Now they’re freely available.” In response to this, Mr Hardaker advised ACA that “Not so long ago” was not intended to mean ‘last week’ or even ‘last year’. Rather, he says: “It is intended to convey the fact that in the sweep of Palestinian history, drug abuse is a relatively new phenomenon, one which has picked up in the last 15 years and has peaked in the last two/three years …”.

In investigating this aspect of your complaint, it is relevant to note that there are few credible sources of data available on drug addiction in the Palestinian community. However, ACA took into consideration the findings of the PCBS report, which also highlights the data of the earlier 1992 Israeli health and drug control committee. The available evidence indicates that drug use within the Palestinian community has increased significantly in recent years.

While ACA accepts Mr Hardaker’s explanation regarding his intended meaning for the statement in question, we believe that further context or attribution to the PCBS report would have been beneficial. However, on review, we do not believe that this statement constitutes a breach of ABC editorial guidelines for accuracy.

2. With regard to the description of Hosni Shahin as “… in charge of the Palestinian effort to stop the spread of drugs …”, ABC News advises that he is the Chairman and General Secretary of the Higher National Committee for the Prevention of the Spread of Drugs, and the Chairman of an East Jerusalem clinic that undertakes drug rehabilitation and education, which is the largest such clinic for Palestinians in East Jerusalem and surrounding communities.

On review, ACA concludes that more specific information on Hosni Shahin’s role would have been preferable, however, we do not believe that his description as “… in charge of the Palestinian effort to stop the spread of drugs …” constitutes a breach of ABC editorial guidelines for accuracy.

3. You raise concerns that no facts were provided to support the statement from Hosni Shahin that “Some of them try to sell their houses to the Jews in their own city”. Please note that the reporter has advised ACA that the transcription is not accurate, it should read: “Some of them try to sell their houses to the Jews in the old city”. For the purposes of review against our editorial guidelines, I should explain that this statement is not considered factual content; it is an opinion or view put forward by an interviewee. Opinions put forward by story participants are not required to be factually accurate, or be supported by factual content.

Rather, as outlined in 3.5 of the Code, ABC editorial standards require the presentation of principal relevant viewpoints on matters of importance. ACA is satisfied that the views of Hosni Shahin were relevant for inclusion in the story and do not, in themselves, constitute a breach of ABC editorial guidelines. However, as acknowledged, the inclusion of such views requires a clear counter to the claims made, and the omission of a substantive Israeli viewpoint constitutes a breach of the Code.

4. ABC News advise that Mr Hardaker acknowledges that this statement is incorrect: “The drug dealers are nearly always Israelis, sometimes working with Palestinians.” The statement should have said “The drug dealers are nearly always ARAB Israelis, sometimes working with Palestinians.”.

This is a breach of our editorial guidelines for accuracy, and we acknowledge that the omission of the descriptor “Arab” was a significant oversight and changed the emphasis of this segment of the report.

Further, our investigation has identified another two inaccuracies in the report. The statistics quoted by the reporter of “… Up to 60,000 Palestinians in the West Bank use drugs, with 11,000 being addicts.” is an inaccurate interpretation of the figures provided in the PCBS report. Additionally, this statement is incorrect: “The research backs up what Imad Schweiki says. Young Palestinians are getting their drugs in areas where they’re in contact with Israelis, either in Jerusalem itself or around the giant wall, known as the separation barrier, between Israel and the West bank.” The PCBS report identified the suburbs with the highest number of drug users, but it did not identify those drug users as Palestinians, Arab Israeli or Jewish Israeli.

With regard to the description of Doctor Luay Shabaneh as “Head of the
research”, this is correct; the PCBS report states that Dr Shabaneh was
responsible for the final review and general supervision of the report,
and is the President of the PCBS. Further information is available on
the PCBS website at:
http://www.pcbs.gov.ps/DesktopModules/Profiles/ProfilesView.aspx?tabID=4
009?=en&ItemID=1&mid=11627

5. As stated above, ACA is satisfied that the views of Hosni Shahin
were relevant for inclusion in a report looking at drug use in the
Palestinian community. The opinion expressed by Hosni Shahin that; ”
… So the occupation, if he can keeps the youth calming down all the
time, the occupation will be, avoid a lot of problems, they will avoid
it.” …” was given some context by the preceding statement by David
Hardaker, who explained: “Israeli authorities have flatly denied using
drugs as a tool of occupation. Drug workers on the ground can’t prove
it, but they are convinced that the inaction of Israeli police is
deliberate and that it’s aimed at pacifying angry young Palestinians.”.
However, as stated above, the inclusion of such allegations required
that the Israeli position be explained more prominently in the report.

While I believe the further seven points raised in your correspondence
have been largely addressed, for the sake of clarity, I have responded
to each matter below:

1. The ABC acknowledges that the claims made in the report should have
been countered by those of an appropriate Israeli agency. If the
appropriate agencies declined to be interviewed, this should have been
clearly stated in the story.

2. The ABC has identified and acknowledges three inaccuracies in the
broadcast.

3. Some of the claims made by those interviewed in the report are very
critical of the Israeli administration, however, it is not stated as
fact that ” … Jews create addiction in order to steal houses …”.
Hosni Shahin asserts that drug addicts sell their houses to those in the
Jewish community to fund their addiction.

4. This report contained views that were highly critical of the Israeli
administration, and every reasonable effort should have been made by the
reporter to provide a more substantive response. Through the lack of
balance, the broadcast gives undue emphasis to the Palestinian
viewpoint, however, the ABC does not agree that this constitutes
vilification of the Jewish people, or that the report is anti-Semitic.
The broadcast stated Israel’s denial of the claims, the point is made
that the Palestinian Authority was criticised in the PCBS report, and,
importantly, the claims made by the drug workers were not reported as
fact; they were presented as viewpoints.

5. The ABC acknowledges that the report did not meet its editorial
standards for balance.

6. It is not the role of ACA to review “the research or due diligence”
of David Hardaker. Rather, as outlined in section 13 of the Editorial
Policies, it is our role to assess the compliance of program content
which is the subject of complaint against our editorial standards.

7. It is not the role of ACA to determine whether a party has been
defamed. If you wish to pursue any allegation of defamation, you will
need to provide full details of your claim to ABC Legal Services
(attention Jonathan Duhs / Megan Edwards).

In conclusion, the ABC apologises for the serious deficiencies in this
report, and once again I regret the delay in providing you with a
substantive response to your complaint.

Thank you again for bringing your concerns to the attention of the ABC.

Yours sincerely

Denise Musto
Audience & Consumer Affairs

Well done to Dr Sam for his tenacity. Thanks to his work, atleast some of the damage caused by this report could be reversed. Of course, those who want to believe the lies will continue to do so.

Please let him know in the comments what an outstanding job he has done.

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