Back in November 2010 we noted Harriet Sherwood’s misleading report from the northern Israeli village of Ghajar in which she insinuated that Israel was to build a wall or barrier through the village.
“Harriet Sherwood’s recent report from Ghajar is another example of what can result from the adherence to inapplicable preconceptions, particularly when mixed with deeply entrenched prejudices. As we are only too aware walls and fences (though exclusively when constructed by Israelis) are quite a popular theme at the Guardian. In this article too, Sherwood takes the ‘Berlin Wall’ theme and develops it way beyond any logical proportion and without context.”
“It is true that the villagers of Ghajar are themselves promoting the ‘Berlin Wall’ theme in connection to their current plight – I heard them use the concept myself when I visited Ghajar last week – but they are doing so as a metaphor for their discontent about the proposed division of their village and possible resulting enforced separation of families. Sherwood, however, takes this particular phrase and uses it to turn what is a very complex situation into a dumbed-down version of events laden with her own preconceptions. The primary message she communicates to her readers is that Israel is building yet another big bad wall and that Arabs will suffer as a result.”
As we mentioned in that article, ‘Just Journalism’ also challenged Sherwood’s report at the time, pointing out the differences between her version and that of a reporter from the Independent who was present at the same time. ‘Just Journalism’ attempted to contact both Sherwood and the Guardian in relation to the report but was eventually left with no option but to approach the Press Complaints Commission.
“We submitted our first query, primarily requesting an explanation for the difference in quotation, to Harriet Sherwood herself on the day of publication. We received no response. Subsequently, Just Journalism also contacted Middle East editor Ian Black, who referred us to foreign editor Charlie English, who referred us to readers’ editor Chris Elliott.”
“None of these email correspondences produced any answers to our questions regarding the Ghajar article. Therefore, after twelve days, Just Journalism elected to submit a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission.”
In this new report from ‘Just Journalism’ readers can see the details of the complaint submitted and the results of that action. Interestingly, the Guardian had published differing versions of the standfirst sub-headline in its print and online versions, the former being a more accurate version of events. However, the Guardian refused to change the standfirst in the online version.
“We asked that the online standfirst be replaced with the one which appeared in the print edition, which was touted by The Guardian in correspondence to the PCC as evidence of its fair portrayal over events. We made the point that guardian.co.uk has a global audience and reaches over 2 million people every day. The print version reaches far fewer readers.”
“On the question of amending the standfirst, The Guardian refused to amend the online version to match that which appeared in the print edition. No explanation was given as to why they were unwilling to do this.”
‘Just Journalism’ has been very diplomatic and indeed some might say extremely generous in its report of the Guardian’s reply to its PCC complaint.
For my part, I would not consider it unrealistic to conclude that the Guardian’s refusal to change the standfirst in its online version of Sherwood’s report from Ghajar is precisely because of the fact that this is the version which reaches a far greater number of readers. After all, a reputable publication dedicated to accurate reporting of the news would be more than happy to correct a mistake pointed out to it by concerned readers, wouldn’t it?