Ned Curthoys (ACT) takes issue with SBS news directive on settlements 1Sep09 September 1, 2009

(letter sent to Director, Paul Cutler, SBSTV)

Regarding your directive below, can you please explain to me how an Occupation that is deemed illegal under international law requires ‘balance’?   This is ancestral Palestinian land that is to form the basis of a Palestinian state while Jewish settlements are not recognized by international law and contravene the Geneva convention which prevents an annexing power from colonizing or acquiring land it occupies.  There’s no doubt whatsoever your preferred language of ‘settlement’ sanitizes Israel’s colonization of the West Bank.  Why don’t you just admit your making a fearful, cowardly choice rather than pretending your preferred terminology is in anyway apolitical or ‘neutral’?   It is of course absurd to talk of a ‘protracted dispute’ when one side is a nation state with a powerful army and the other side are stateless human beings subject to curfews, arrests, attacks on their crops, restrictions on their freedom of movement, and physical attacks on their persons on a daily basis. So no more talk of not taking sides: you’ve already done that.  How disgraceful:  you should be ashamed.

SBS News directive on the settlements

As Middle East peace talks gather momentum once again, it is important that all programs take care in the language used to describe the Occupied Territories.

Recently the SBS Ombudsman ruled the use of the term “Palestinian land” in a World News Australia story was a breach of Code 2.2 which states:

Reasonable effort should be made to ensure news and current affairs programs are balanced and impartial ,,,”

In making the ruling, the Ombudsman said: “The land concerned remains the subject of protracted and deep dispute and therefore the reasonable viewer could consider that the use of the term “Palestinian Land” indicates a lack of impartiality as required under the Codes.”

The status of Israeli settlements on the West Bank is controversial, and is the subject of ongoing negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

When discussing territory whose status remains the subject of negotiation, care must be taken to ensure that the language used is neutral and cannot be interpreted as being favourable to one side over another.  The best way to achieve this is to describe the geographic location of the settements e.g. “Israeli settlements on the West Bank” or “Israeli settlements on the outskirts of Jerusalem” or similar.  We should avoid describing them as “on Palestinian land” or “on disputed land”.

If anyone is in any doubt on this issue, please refer upwards.

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