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Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel – to the Polish Council of Media Ethics

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Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel – to the Council of Media Ethics

In response to the position of the Council of Media Ethics regarding the protests on the status of Jerusalem as of 13 October 2011, legitimizing calling the city the capital of Israel, we would like to express our concern about the views contained therein, which can be construed as permitting journalists to present false or incomplete information as facts consistent with reality.

Assuming good will on the part of the Council, we believe it is appropriate that a response should be made indicating the inconsistencies and deviations from the rules and guidelines of the Charter of Media Ethics contained in the said position. These inconsistencies create a dangerous precedent, allowing an unrestricted shifting of the emphasis from the fact to its interpretation, even in the face of the vast documentation available, including UN resolutions, international practices and judgments of the International Court of Justice. This creates favorable conditions for abuse, denying the right to reliable information, the human right to the truth.

The response is based on the opinion of the Center for International Media Ethics - an international organization dealing with issues of ethics in journalism, to which we sent an inquiry regarding the position of the Council of Media Ethics.

By definition, the Council of Media Ethics is meant to uphold the principles formulated in the Charter of Media Ethics. These principles are a code of conduct for media people, including journalists, who have a privileged position in society as a result of their profession.

They have the power which entails a huge responsibility; the instrument of that power is the word, and word shapes the social consciousness. It should be noted that in the era of digitization and the universal access to the Internet, the message is simplified and shortened, thus increasing the importance of single words.

It is therefore particularly important that when formulating media messages one should adhere to following principles: the care for accuracy, integrity, respect for human rights of readers, listeners, viewers to the truth and scrupulous compliance with the professional standards.

The aforementioned Charter states: "Journalists,editors, producers and broadcasters make every effort to ensure that the information they relate is consistent with the truth, conscientiously and without distortion report the facts in their proper context" (the so-called principle of truth), and further: "freedom of the media imposes on journalists, editors, producers and broadcasters responsibility for the content and form of communication and the resulting consequences "(the so-called principle of freedom and responsibility). The consequence of incorrect - inconsistent with international and customary law - determination of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is the reinforcement of a distorted image of the Middle East conflict in the public awareness, despite the public interest, while for the benefit of one party to the dispute - the state of Israel - which, incidentally, routinely violates international law, ignoring a number of UN resolutions, including those relating to Jerusalem.

It is to be assumed that not every audience member is an expert in the Middle East conflict, with all its complexities. Presenting the interpretation as fact, the journalist creates reality rather than relating it as truthfully as possible. On the issue of Jerusalem, unconscious or deliberate dissemination of opinion that the city is the capital of Israel - which also suggests that it is entirely owned by that State, in spite of the actual division into the eastern and western parts - builds public awareness of the image incompatible with the truth, in addition, thwarting the opportunity to discuss the status of Jerusalem. Thus, any voices that challenge the city’s status as belonging to Israel may be treated as baseless claims of the Palestinians - the occupied side.

Referring to the Council's argument, which reads: "the capital in Jerusalem is a matter of international politics, not media ethics", we would like to note that on the level of international politics, as well as in other areas of interest to the media, we are dealing with facts, such as the UN findings or decisions of the International Court of Justice. Deviation from facts, regardless of their affiliation to one of these spheres, undoubtedly belongs in the area of media ethics – is an unethical action. The issue of Jerusalem is an element of international politics, as well as the Middle East conflict in general, but also as the majority of the information presented in the media, and therefore the argument of this peculiar political character should be regarded as ludicrous. It is in obvious contradiction with the so-called principle of truth.

The Council of Media Ethics, justifying their position, referred to the Foreign Ministry spokesman, Macin Bosacki, who said that Jerusalem is the de facto capital of Israel, because it is where important international meetings are held. In fact, however, high-level meetings take place in Tel Aviv, where the vast majority of countries have their embassies and most importantly - no country has an embassy in Jerusalem. Reference to the Foreign Ministry spokesman is itself questionable, for two reasons: firstly, last year's visit of the Polish government delegation in Jerusalem was a source of controversy, precisely because of its location, because, as we have mentioned, it is generally accepted that meetings at international level take place in Tel Aviv–Yafo; secondly, decisions and actions of the MFA are primarily political, and thus can serve particular purposes, contrary to international arrangements and customs, which may be morally wrong, as the aforementioned Polish government delegation visit to Jerusalem, that can be seen as sanctioning the Israeli policy against Palestinians: breaking the international law, including humanitarian law (law of armed conflict). The position of the MFA works to the disadvantage of the occupied party, namely Palestine. It is in accordance with current Polish policy towards Israel, which we evaluate negatively. Nota bene, the visit of the Polish delegation in Israel met with disapproval, including protests in the UK, and also in Israel itself: anthropologist, writer and director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, Jeff Halper, wrote an open letter to the Polish authorities.

We are aware that the Middle East conflict is a trial for the journalistic integrity. It is a sensitive issue and requires particular precision in choosing words, given the disproportion of forces and means between the occupier and the occupied side. The Center for International Media Ethics rightly suggests that in such controversial cases a journalist should feel obliged to explain all the nuances to the audience, even if it necessitates expanding the content with a few extra lines of text. In doing so, the journalist respects the audience’s right to truth.

In view of the above, we request that the issue concerning Jerusalem be reconsidered, hoping to change the position of the Council of Media Ethics.

Attached, we are presenting the full opinion of the Center for International Media Ethics:

 “Journalists have the responsibility to inform their audiences of any facts that are the subject of dispute. They should represent both (or multiple) sides of the disputed fact(s) in their story, including multiple and contrasting opinions from reliable (and if possible official) sources, even if this requires writing or broadcasting a few more lines of information. If facts are likely to be strongly disputed by a portion of their readership, the reporter should explain why the facts are subject of debate and set forth a series of different possible perspectives. In the case of complaints from readers/listeners, the journalist should follow an appropriate and consistent system to respond to (and possible publish) letters to the editor that allow for constructive commentary or for a deeper understanding of the news.”


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