Evening Standard: Double standards and total ignorance on Israel
18 May 2012
On 12 March 2012 the London Evening Standard published a story with the headline “Israel strike on Gaza militants kills schoolboy”.
My original blog posting about the story is here:
The story was false, but the Standard did not respond to an email complaint I sent the same day and nor did it print my letter submitted to the Letters page.
Hence on 15 March 2012 I made a formal complaint to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) about the article.
Below is the full (lengthy) correspondence on the case. The correspondence confirms my view that the Evening Standard is institutionally anti-Israel. The Standard admits it relies on a proven liar (Adham Abu Salmia) employed by the terrorist organisation Hamas, for its ‘information’. The PCC ultimately rejected my complaint but welcomed the Evening Standard’s offer to put a footnote on the web version of the story stating that Israel had denied that such air strikes had taken place.
23 March 2012. Response by Will Gore (Deputy Managing Editor of the Standard) to the PCC:
I have now had a chance to look into the complaint from Mr Davidson about an article that appeared in the Evening Standard on Monday of last week. Mr Davidson says the claim that a 16-year-old schoolboy was killed in an air raid is untrue and has provided an AFP report from the following day which sets out a denial by the Israeli Air Force that it carried out a raid at the time in question (9.30am). The AFP report also contains the view of an AFP reporter that there was no obvious sign of a raid in the vicinity.
Our article stemmed from an AP report compiled by Ibrahim Barzak, who is based in the Gaza strip. The original AP piece is below; it was used by us and by others as the basis for further reports. As you will note, the claim that the schoolboy was killed as the result of an Israeli air raid was made by a Gazan health official, Adham Abu Salmia.
In almost every conflict we are faced with claim and counter-claim, as is the case in this particular instance. Given the extensive material (including from named sources) contained in the AP report I believe we were entitled to use it in the way we did - and that we did not fail to take the care required by Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code in doing so. The subsequent report by AFP does not disprove the claims contained in the AP piece or our own. Indeed, I note that the Israeli military spokesman quoted in the AFP report refers to 'an initial check' of air strike timings. As to the suggestion by the AFP reporter that the schoolboy's death was the result of him carrying an explosive device, that is clearly the reporter's opinion (which does not, incidentally, preclude the possibility that the boy had picked up unexploded munitions dropped by Israel's airforce).
In all the circumstances I do not believe that we have breached the Code by our reporting. If it would assist the Commission I would be prepared to run a short update at the end of our report as it appears online. This could read: "The Israeli military has denied it carried out an air strike at the time at which the 16-year-old was killed. A military spokesman told AFP: 'from an initial check, there were no air strikes in the northern Gaza strip since the early hours of the morning' ".
Please do contact me if you would like to discuss this matter or if you require any further information from me.
With best regards
The PCC invited me to comment on the response and let them know any suggestions I had to help to resolve the matter to my satisfaction.
My response on 23 March 2012:
I am not at all happy with Mr. Gore ’s response or his offer. Below I lay out my reasons and make a proposal about how the matter can be resolved.
Mr. Gore now acknowledges that the IDF denied it carried out a raid at the time in question and (more importantly) that the (normally anti-Israel) AFP’s reporter on the ground claimed there was no sign of a raid in the vicinity, and indeed this reporter actually saw the boy in question carrying an explosive device. Mr. Gore counters this latter evidence with the bizarre suggestion that it “does not preclude the possibility that the boy had picked up unexploded munitions dropped by Israel's airforce” even though Mr. Gore himself appears to be the only person who has made this claim. Mr. Gore is apparently unaware of the fact that 13-16-year-old Palestinian ‘schoolboys’ are regularly used to transport munitions and even carry out ‘martyrdom operations’; if he wants to find out he can simply go the Hamas and Islamic Jihad websites and see the list of such ‘martyrs’ and how they died. In Arabic they do not bother to lie about their deaths as they do to the Western media.
A detailed analysis (with further evidence to support the AFP reporter claim) can be found here:
Despite this evidence, Mr. Gore still seems to have greater belief in the contrary claim made by “Gazan health official”, Adham Abu Salmia who was not a witness to the incident. Mr. Gore should know that Adham Abu Salmia is employed by Hamas, a proscribed terrorist organization that for many years has been known to continually lie about casualties. Moreover, Mr. Gore should also know that Adham Abu Salmia has been caught lying not just about this incident but about at least two other similar incidents during the same week. The following AP report of 14 March (and Mr Gore clearly places a lot of faith in AP reports)
is especially significant because it reveals the truth about 8-year-old Barka al-Mugrahbi who Adham Abu Salmia claimed was killed in an Israeli airstrike on 12 March:
“GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — A Palestinian boy accidentally struck by a bullet when militants fired in the air during a funeral died of his injuries Wednesday, family members and witnesses said.
Palestinian health official Adham Abu Salmia initially said that 8-year-old Barka al-Mugrahbi died of wounds sustained in an Israeli airstrike on Monday. Israel's military said it did not carry out a strike in the area then. The boy's relatives and witnesses later said the boy was marching in a funeral procession for a Gaza militant when he was struck in the head by an errant bullet.
At the time, gunmen were firing in the air, they said.”
Adham Abu Salmia also lied about the death of Baraka al-Mughrabi, aged 7, on 14 March – he claimed he died of injuries from the same non-existent Israeli air-strike that the Standard report referred to. See
for further details.
In the light of these facts Mr. Gore has an obligation to inform his readers that his source Adham Abu Salmia is a propagandist liar working for Hamas. I’d like to know if the Standard will continue to use Adham Abu Salmia as a source for its information in Gaza.
In addition to the above Mr. Gore must surely be aware that, before the article appeared, there was a scandal whereby a tweet sent on 10 March by a Palestinian (Khulood Badawi) working for the UN –– with a photo she claimed depicted a Palestinian girl killed by an Israeli air strike the day before - became the most tweeted story of the day. It was proven false the next day (11 March) - the photograph was several years old and was of a girl in a car accident - but too late for the damage to be done:
So why did Mr. Gore print a similar lie on 12 March (and why indeed did the Standard not refer to the tweet scandal at all)? Mr. Gore will surely be aware that the Toulouse killer who murdered a rabbi and three young Jewish children on 19 March claimed he was doing so ‘in revenge for Israel killing Palestinian children’? I would like to know Mr. Gore ’s views about whether the continual lies about Israel killing Palestinian children – which his newspaper has played a prominent role in perpetuating – may have contributed to the murderous anti-Semitic thoughts of the Jihadist killer and many others like him.
What I find especially disappointing about Mr. Gore ’s response is that it is indicative of ingrained anti-Israel bias that permeates the newspaper group to which he belongs. Mr. Gore ’s defence that “In almost every conflict we are faced with claim and counter-claim, as is the case in this particular instance” disguises the fact that his newspaper routinely treat claims relating to Israel in an inherently different way to those in any other war zone – always believing the claims of Israel’s enemies (despite their history of proven lies) and never even stating the claims of Israelis (despite their impeccable integrity). Every aspect of the Standard reporting displays a difference in the way it treats Israel compared to any other country. So, on the very same page as the offending report (directly beneath it) the Standard reports 12 deaths of Syrian civilians in Homs by unspecified 'gunmen' even though the Free Syrian Army claimed the number was 45, mostly women and children, killed by Syrian security forces. So, whereas the Standard simply accepted as fact the casualty claims made by the Palestinian terrorist spokesman Adham Abu Salmia, it did not accept as fact the casualty claims made by the Free Syrian Army (despite the latter providing video evidence of 45 people – many women and children - who had clearly been murdered). Even worse, note the difference in the two headlines:
Syria story: “Children among 12 ‘murdered’ by gunmen in Homs conflict” ; the word 'murdered' is in inverted commas in the title, the perpetrators are ambiguous (not identified as Syrian security personnel) and the passive rather than active construct is used. There is an almost obsessive attempt to appear ‘neutral’.
Israel story: “Israeli strike on Gaza militants kills schoolboy” ; no inverted commas around ‘kills schoolboy’, Israelis clearly identified as killers in the active form. No attempt to appear neutral, there is an almost obsessive attempt of accusation against Israel.
The more truthful headline for the Gaza flare-up would surely have been something like the following FACTS:
“One million Israelis living in shelters for four days continuously as Palestinian terrorists launch 200 rockets at civilian targets in unprovoked attack”
or, given the Standard's interest in the welfare of children:
“200,000 Israeli schoolchildren miss school for forth consecutive day as Palestinian terrorists launch 200 rockets at civilian targets in unprovoked attack”
The Standard’s ingrained anti-Israel bias is further demonstrated by the fact that the false Israel story is by far the most extensively reported foreign news story in the paper, despite it being on a day when: an American soldier killed 16 civilians in Afghanistan (no mention at all of that) , there were multiple suicide bombings by Islamists killings dozens of Christians in Nigeria (no mention at all of that), a massive suicide bombing by Islamists killing 19 mourners at a funeral in Pakistan (no mention at all of that), not to mention other suicide bombings by Islamists in Pakistan, Iraq and Malaysia (no mention at all of that).
I do not accept Mr. Gore's proposal to simply add the statement:
"The Israeli military has denied it carried out an air strike at the time at which the 16-year-old was killed. A military spokesman told AFP: 'from an initial check, there were no air strikes in the northern Gaza strip since the early hours of the morning' "
underneath an old web article is an adequate response to my complaints. Presumably hundreds of thousands of readers saw the original headline. Less than a dozen would see the proposed statement.
My proposal is that the Standard:
1) publish an opinion piece in the main paper (not online) that covers all of the above points (I am happy for them to use my text)
2) publish a statement in the main paper (not online) making it clear that their key source for the story on 12 March, Adham Abu Salmia, is an employee of a terrorist organisation who is a proven liar.
Finally, please note that on the day of the article I wrote to both the editor and letters page by email. My 'letter' was quite short and could have been printed on a subsequent day on their letters page. It did not and I got no response at all. Only then did I made the formal complaint to the PCC.
30 March 2012 Response by Will Gore r to the PCC:
I am sorry that Mr Davidson has found my response to his complaint so objectionable.
He argues that the AFP reporter says he actually saw the boy in question carrying an explosive device - I am not aware that is so. Either way, the fact remains that we published a story based on a report from a reliable news agency, which itself was based on information from several named sources, and our story has not been shown to be inaccurate. I accept that there is a dispute about its accuracy but that is rather different.
I also note what Mr Davidson says about the reliability of Adham Abu Salmia, who he describes as an employee of a terrorist organisation. But, while I do not discount what Mr Davidson says, I do not believe it is sufficient for us to conclude that our report was inaccurate or that we failed in our obligations under Clause 1 of the Code.
Mr Davidson is wrong to suggest that our newspaper group has an ingrained anti-Israel bias. We do not.
I know that Mr Davidson feels very strongly indeed about this issue, which he is quite entitled to. However, his proposals for resolving this complaint are wholly disproportionate. The suggestion I made in my last letter is, I believe, appropriate and I hope the Commission will agree.
I look forward to hearing from you. Do let me know if I can be of further assistance.
With best regards
30 March 2012 my response:
I note that Will has chosen to simply ignore most of the points I have made or reject them without any evidence.
In particular, Will has completely ignored the crucial point I made in my follow-up about the Palestinian 'spokesman' Adham Abu Salmia who was the source of the original report. Adham Abu Salmia is a Hamas employee who has have been PROVEN to be a complete liar (as documented in my response). Since this proven liar was the source of the story, Will's claim that the source was 'reliable' is demonstrably untrue.
Under the circumstances, before I make a decision about the next step, I would like to know what the Standard's position is now with respect to running stories based on Adham Abu Salmia's claims.
3 April Response by Will Gore to the PCC:
I have not, as far as I can see, described Adham Abu Salmia is 'reliable'; I think Mr Davidson has misread my response. I described AP as a reliable agency and made the point that its information - and the information in our article - was attributed to an identifiable source. It is well-known that the Gaza strip is administered by Hamas and readers may decide to make their own judgement about the statements of that organisation's officials.
The fact is, we published a report about an incident that had taken place that day during the course of an ongoing conflict. It was based on information available at the time and I believe we were entitled to use the material in question. The proposals I have made to update the situation are reasonable. If it assists, I would also be prepared to place a note on our archive files making clear that a complaint has been made about the reliability of Adham Abu Salmia. I cannot and will not give a guarantee that he will never again be quoted in the Evening Standard.
If Mr Davidson does not consider that my suggestions are adequate I would ask that this matter be put to the Commission for a view under the Code.
The PCC asked me the following:
Please let me know if these steps (described in Will Gore’s letter) might be a means of resolving your complaint, in which case a summary of your complaint and the steps taken by the newspaper to resolve it would also appear on the PCC's website, acting as a public record of your concerns against the newspaper. Otherwise, as it does not appear that the newspaper is willing to offer anything further, I would propose that this matter be referred to the Commission for formal consideration.
My response on 10 April 2012 was:
As Will Gore has still refused to address any of my main concerns I would like this matter be referred to the Commission for formal consideration. The fact is that the Evening Standard published a classic blood libel ("Jews kill children") against Israel that it would not have done against any other country in the world - and just two weeks later the Toulouse terrorist justified his killing of Jewish schoolchildren on the basis that he was 'avenging the killing of children by the Israelis'. Despite the story having been proved to be false Gore claims the Standard has done nothing wrong and nor will he do anything to stop similar falsehoods in future.
I am also appalled by his ludicrous comment that "It is well-known that the Gaza strip is administered by Hamas and readers may decide to make their own judgement about the statements of that organisation's officials." It is pretty clear to me that the Standard's own writers are not aware of this, let alone its readers. If they were this story would never have appeared in this way.
8 May 2012 PCC Decision
Commission’s decision in the case of
Davidson v Evening Standard
The complainant said that the article reporting on the death of a 16-year old Palestinian boy in the Gaza strip was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code. He said it was not the case that the boy in question had been killed in an “Israeli air strike”. He provided a copy of a press release from AFP, a press agency he described as “notoriously anti-Israel”, which asserted that “there were no signs of any impact on the ground which could have been caused by a missile, with the most likely cause of his death being some kind of explosive device he was carrying”. He also said the newspaper had not responded to his direct correspondence to it regarding the article, which he considered to be a breach of Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply).
Under the terms of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code, newspapers must take care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information. The newspaper in correspondence said that the article was based on an AP report compiled by Ibrahim Barzak, who was based in the Gaza strip. The newspaper described AP as a reliable agency, and provided a copy of the agency report, which stated that “Israeli airstrikes killed three Palestinian civilians and two militants in the Gaza Strip on Monday”. The report contained information from numerous different sources, and the claim that the schoolboy was killed as the result of an Israeli air raid was made within the agency report by a Gazan health official, Adham Abu Salmia.
The complainant alleged that Adham Abu Salmia was unreliable. However, in circumstances of military action where there were likely to be conflicting accounts, the Commission was satisfied that the newspaper was entitled to rely on the agency report from a reliable agency, which was detailed and drew its information from a number of different sources. It did not consider that the newspaper had failed in its obligation to take care not to publish inaccurate information such as to breach the terms of Clause 1 (i) of the Code. The newspaper had offered to place a note on its file making clear that a complaint had been made regarding the reliability of Adham Abu Salmia, and the Commission welcomed this offer.
The Commission noted that the AFP report supplied by the complainant reported that the Israeli military had subsequently denied it had conducted any air strikes at the time, and that the boy had most likely died as a result of some explosive device he was carrying. The Commission was not in a position to reconcile the conflicting accounts and to establish conclusively the precise cause of death, but in any case it noted that both accounts reported that there had been Israeli air strikes at least up until the early hours of Monday morning, so there was some possibility that the boy had been killed as a direct or indirect result of the air strikes. In the circumstances – and in the absence of a complaint from any directly affected first party – it was not able to establish that the report was significantly inaccurate or misleading such as to require correction under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code. The newspaper had offered to publish a statement to the online article making clear that the Israeli army had apparently denied that air strikes had been carried out at the time, and the Commission considered that this was appropriate.
Will Gore’s response to PCC:
Thank you for informing me of the outcome of the PCC’s deliberations in this case. I am, of course, glad that the Commission concluded there had been no breach of the Code. I will, nonetheless, add my proposed footnote to the article online.
With best regards