PCC rules that Guardian’s Conal Urquhart ‘significantly misled’ readers in flotilla story

In late May we wrote a piece, titled ‘Guardian’s Conal Urquhart lies about “unarmed” Mavi Marmara terrorists‘, fisking Conal Urquhart’s story titled ‘Israel offers compensation to Mavi Marmara flotilla raid victims, Guardian, May 24.

Urquhart’s piece included the following passage:

“Turkey cooled diplomatic relations with Israel after nine of its citizens were shot dead by Israeli commandos who landed on the Mavi Marmara to prevent its passage to Gaza. Protesters on the ship repelled the first wave of lightly armed commandos, but then the Israeli soldiers used lethal force against the unarmed passengers to end their resistance.”

We noted that, per the UN Palmer Report, Urquhart’s claim that passengers were “unarmed” was blatantly untrue, per the following passages in sections 123 and 124 of the report:

“It is clear to the Panel that preparations were made by some of the passengers on the Mavi Marmara well in advance to violently resist any boarding attempt. The description given in the Israeli report is consistent with passenger testimonies to the Turkish investigation that describe cutting iron bars from the guard rails of the ship…”

“Furthermore, video footage shows passengers…carrying metal bars, slingshots, chains and staves. That information supports the accounts of violence given by IDF personnel to the Israeli investigation…”

“The Panel accepts, therefore, that soldiers landing from the first helicopter faced significant, organized and violent resistance from a group of passengers when they descended onto the Mavi MarmaraMaterial before the Panel confirms that this group was armed with iron bars, staves, chains, and slingshots, and there is some indication that they also used knives. Firearms were taken from IDF personnel and passengers disabled at least one by removing the ammunition from it. Two soldiers received gunshot wounds. There is some reason to believe that they may have been shot by passengers…” [emphasis added]

Urquhart’s “unarmed” flotilla ‘activists’ beating Israelis with large metal rods

CiF Watch later learned that a complaint to the UK Press Complaints Commission was filed, shortly after Urquhart’s piece, by a private individual, which echoed our concerns that the term “unarmed”, used to describe the passengers, was inaccurate, and in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. 

Under the terms of Clause 1 (i) of the Code, “newspapers must take care not to publish inaccurate information, and Clause 1 (ii) provides that a significantly inaccurate or misleading statement must be corrected promptly, and with due prominence.”

The Guardian’s defense rested on the specious claim that readers would have understood that “unarmed” referred only  to an absence of firearms.

However, we’ve learned more recently that the PCC has issued a final ruling, determining that the Guardian had indeed “failed to take care not to publish misleading information, in breach of Clause 1 (i) of the Code“, stating the following:

“…the Commission considered that referring to the Mavi Marmara passengers as being “unarmed”, without mention of the weaponry which was acknowledged to have been used by the passengers, may have resulted in readers being significantly misled.”

To comply with the PCC ruling, Urquhart’s extremely misleading piece in the Guardian now has this addendum:

(The PCC concluded that the above footnoted addition by the Guardian does, in their view, represent “sufficient remedial action” and therefore “satisfies the newspaper’s obligations under the terms of the Code.”)

However, while this is a welcome revision, the Guardian still doesn’t acknowledge evidence found in the Israeli Turkel Commission inquiry that passengers on board the Mavi Marmara indeed used firearms. 

For example, the Turkel Report concluded, thus:

“…having reviewed the available evidence, the Commission finds that members of the IHH activists used firearms against Israeli forces on May 31, 2010, in their efforts to repel the boarding of the Mavi Marmara by Israeli military personnel.”

Paragraph 132 of the report stated the following:

“This violence [by flotilla passengers] included the use of physical force and attacks on the soldiers using various means, such as wooden clubs, iron rods, slingshots, knives, etc., as well as the use of firearms.” [emphasis added]

Paragraph 134, the Turkel Commission Report included this:

“Two soldiers from the takeover force in the first helicopter were wounded by live fire, which, according to their statements, was shot at them by IHH activists: soldier no. 2 (the second soldier who fast-roped from the first helicopter) was shot in his abdomen by a bullet with 9 mm circumference; soldier no. 5 was shot in his right knee.” [emphasis added]

Even the Palmer Report, while not concluding definitively on the matter, did acknowledge, in paragraph 124, the following: 

“Two [Israeli] soldiers received gunshot wounds. There is some reason to believe that they may have been shot by passengers…”. [emphasis added]

More broadly, in addition to the fact that the passengers were indeed armed (in the common understanding of the term), it’s important to note that the Palmer Report not only concluded that the Mavi Marmara passengers initiated the violence, but that Israel’s blockade of Gaza is legal, and does not represent “collective punishment”.  

The Guardian’s initial coverage of the 2010 incident was as obsessive as it was one-sided, and included 71 separate pieces published in the first four days following the incident – most of which was based on the presumption that the passengers were innocent victims of Israeli aggression.

Urquhart’s grossly misleading claim – running interference for violent IHH terrorist operatives – was thoroughly consistent with the Guardian’s ongoing ideologically motivated script regarding Israel’s immutable guilt.

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