By Miriam Bell
First published on AIJAC
Revelations that a sub-editor at New Zealand’s national broadcaster had been inappropriately editing wire stories, including some about Israel, have reignited discussion of anti-Israel media bias in the country.
In June, it emerged that Radio New Zealand (RNZ) was investigating after a story on the war in Ukraine, which originally came from Reuters, was published on its website with a pro-Russian slant.
The investigation quickly uncovered other stories, syndicated from international media partners, that had been “inappropriately edited” by one sub-editor.
Initially, the “edits” appeared confined to Ukraine-Russia stories, but it soon emerged they extended to stories on a range of issues, including Taiwan and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
One example was a Reuters story with the headline “Israel’s Netanyahu returns with hard-right cabinet set to expand settlements,” which had four edits.
One edit was the substitution of “far-right” for “hard-right” in the first sentence and headline, while another was changing a sentence from “Most world powers deem settlements built on land captured in war illegal” to “The settlements are, according to international law, illegal.”
Examples from other stories include “Palestinian gunmen” being changed to “Palestinians”; “militant” being changed to “resistance”; and “including eight gunmen” being removed from the sentence “10 Palestinians including eight gunmen were killed.”
All the stories identified have now been restored to the original copy and had notes appended saying the story was edited inappropriately, and that RNZ took the matter seriously and was taking action.
At the time of publication, the ongoing investigation had identified a total of 33 edited stories, and the RNZ board had appointed an independent three-person panel to undertake a review of the broadcaster’s editorial processes.
Both the Zionist Federation of New Zealand (ZFNZ) and the Israel Institute of New Zealand (IINZ) have called for an independent review of what had happened at RNZ.
ZFNZ president Rob Berg said the Federation would like to see an independent investigation into how so many news stories had been changed to fit a particular political agenda.
“We have often seen the bias in the New Zealand media when it comes to Israel, and this confirms what we already knew.
“We would like to hope it is the doing of one rogue journalist, but it wouldn’t surprise us if this is not an isolated case. The New Zealand public needs to be reassured of the journalistic integrity of the media.”
IINZ co-director David Cumin said there had to be an independent review and accountability, as the edits were clearly made to introduce egregious bias, and in some cases false information, into stories.
“The most important outcome of the inquiry will be to identify the scale of the offending, and ensure safeguards are put in place so that it doesn’t continue.”
But for a long time, even unadulterated wire stories used in New Zealand had been biased in many cases, as illustrated by the work of Honest Reporting, Camera.org and others, he said.
“That bias from the international outlets is less excusable than local bias, because their reporters are on the ground and should have a better idea of the facts and context.”
Members of the Jewish community have raised concerns about media bias in relation to Israel in the past, and the Broadcasting Standards Authority has upheld several complaints against New Zealand’s media.
One of these was when Rachel Smalley talked about Israeli actions against Hamas, and claimed that actions of the IDF targeted civilians and “killed everyone inside” a building, which was untrue, Cumin said.
“Another was reporting by Te Karere which claimed the naval blockade imposed on Gaza was ‘illegal’ when it was legal and necessary to prevent terror.
“RNZ have also fallen foul of the ‘controversial issues’ standard of the BSA for not allowing an alternative perspective to anti-Israel messages they were reporting,” Cumin added.
He also said that work IINZ did a few years ago showed local newspapers disproportionately published anti-Israel letters to the editor, while pro-Israel submissions had been denied.
Local journalists also appeared unwilling to publish on the government funding of UNRWA, which operated schools where children were exposed to lessons that glorify the murder of Jews, he said.
Cumin encouraged people to write to the media when they saw something unbalanced or egregious in reporting on Israel, and to read widely, as it made it more likely to see all sides of an issue.
In New Zealand, if people want to make a complaint about the reporting of a story, they first have to get in touch with the media organisation in question.
But if their concerns are not resolved, there are organisations set up to investigate the actions of the media. The New Zealand Media Council deals with complaints about newspaper reporting, and the Broadcasting Standards Authority deals with complaints about radio or TV.