Adjudication by the Australian Press Council on The Australian’s refusal to publish a correction of misreported statement in an interview with Ali Kazak 17Sep10 September 17, 2010

For General Release: September 17, 2010                                            Adjudicated: August 26, 2010
The Australian: September 16, 2010                                                      Issued: September 1, 2010

Adjudication No. 1474

The Australian Press Council has considered a complaint by Ali Kazak about an article in The Australian on 15 May 2010 headed Journalist says only truth will set Palestine free. The article reported on the visit to Australia of Khaled Abu Toameh who was described as an Israeli Arab Muslim journalist. Mr Kazak is a former ambassador for the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

Mr Kazak complained to the Council that he had been misquoted and misrepresented in the article in two respects. The first area of complaint related to the passage that read:

“Palestinians are the victims. He shouldn’t write about them, he should write about the crimes of the Israelis”.

Kazak admits there is corruption and violence in the West Bank and Gaza. “Of course, Palestinian society isn’t perfect. I myself have criticised it,” he says. But Kazak objects to Abu Toameh writing about it.

Mr Kazak’s complaint to the Council was in similar terms to a letter, which he submitted for publication by The Australian but was not published. It stated, in part: “I did not say that the Israeli propagandist Abu Toameh ‘shouldn’t write’ about the Palestinians and corruption. To the contrary I said the Palestinian media is full of criticism of such things and I am myself critical of many things. But what I object to is the fact that Abu Toameh is working for the Israeli propaganda machine to spread its deceptions and lies in order to discredit the Palestinians in the eyes of its supporters and the international community”.

Mr Kazak’s second area of complaint related to a passage, which follows a quote from Mr Kazak calling Mr Toameh a traitor. It read: “These are dangerous words in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Kazak admits that many Palestinians are murdered in the West Bank and Gaza for being traitors. He says he doesn’t agree with it but ‘Traitors were also murdered by the French Resistance, in Europe, this happens everywhere’.” Mr Kazak complained that this was “completely different” from what he had said; in particular, it did not report his statement that “I am not calling for his killing and I don’t agree with killing traitors, they should be put on trial”. He also said that numerous websites had subsequently reported him incorrectly as calling for Mr Toameh’s killing.

The Australian’s senior deputy editor said that he had examined the notes of the interview taken by the journalist and that they confirmed the accuracy of the quotes attributed to Mr Kazak. When attending the meeting with the Council, he reiterated this view but, in response to questions, said that he could not say whether the notes put the alleged words in quotation marks. When Mr Kazak was asked, in turn, exactly what he had said, he provided a paraphrase rather than direct quotes.

The Council considered that, on the material before it, it could not arrive at the conclusion that Mr Kazak had been misquoted or misrepresented. But it said that in cases such as this, where misquotation could have very serious and even fatal consequences, particular care needs to be taken by publications. The best way of doing so would usually be to explicitly confirm the quote with the source. Where this does not occur, sources should be given an opportunity to publish their own version. The Australian said that it did not publish Mr Kazak’s letter because it was satisfied that the quotation was correct. The Council considers that publication of Mr Kazak’s contending view would have been the appropriate approach.

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