John Docker (NSW) writes to ABC Media Watch concerning SBS guidelines on the Occupied Palestinian Territories 8Sep09 September 8, 2009

Dear Media Watch,

As an admirer of your programme’s critical intelligence and integrity, I know you will be concerned by SBS’s complicity in the flouting of international law, a flouting so egregious that it compromises Australia’s commitment to international humanitarian law.

It is becoming common knowledge that Paul Cutler, Director of SBS TV’s News and Current Affairs, has issued the following directive to his staff concerning the Occupied Palestinian Territories:

“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 settlements 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.”

It would be interesting to know who SBS employs as its Ombudsman, but whoever it is, s/he is most certainly not qualified in the field of international law. Israel is the subject of numerous UN Resolutions, for example 242 and 338, which declare that its occupation of various territories won by war is illegal, territories which include the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, and Gaza. The Golan Heights are illegally occupied Syrian territory. Gaza has for years now suffered under a siege that is illegal under international law that prohibits collective punishment. The settlements on the West Bank are illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (1949).
The SBS Ombudsman might like to note that the Fourth Geneva Convention, Part III, Section III, Article 47, tells us that “Protected persons who are in occupied territory shall not be deprived, in any case or in any manner whatsoever, of the benefits of the present Convention by any change introduced, as the result of the occupation of a territory, into the institutions or government of the said territory, nor by any agreement concluded between the authorities of the occupied territories and the Occupying Power, nor by annexation by the latter of the whole or part of the occupied territory.”

Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention tells us that, “The occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies”. In relation to the illegal Israeli settlements on the West Bank, isn’t that clear enough for the SBS Ombudsman?

The annexation of East Jerusalem into the State of Israel and the application of Israeli domestic law to this area has been repeatedly denounced as null and void by the international community, including by the UN Security Council. SBS’s Ombudsman might like to ponder UN Security Council Resolution 252 (21 May 1968), which states that “all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, including expropriation of land and properties thereon, which tend to change the legal status of Jerusalem are invalid and cannot change that status … “ Resolution 252 “[u]rgently calls upon Israel to rescind all such measures already taken and to desist forthwith from taking any further action which tends to change the status of Jerusalem”.

The SBS Ombudsman in her /his wisdom declares that SBS should not refer to Palestinian Land. Such a view is in direct contravention of UN Security Council Resolution 446, 22 March, 1979, which

“Determines that the policy and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967 have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.”

If the UN Security Council can use the phrase “Palestinian and other Arab territories” in repudiating Israeli policy and practices of establishing illegal settlements, why can’t SBS?

Paul Cutler – – tells his staff that if there is any doubt about terminology, to refer “upwards”. One hopes by “upwards” Cutler doesn’t mean the SBS Ombudsman, since s/he is clearly illiterate in international law. More wisely, Cutler – if he has any concern for Australia’s international reputation – could refer outwards to readily available judgements of international law.

Dr John Docker

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