Does The Sunday Times really think that it can fob off its readers? A number of people have forwarded us an entirely inadequate response from The Sunday Times to their complaints concerning a highly problematic article on Gaza by advocacy journalist Sarah Helm. The response is quite frankly, an insult to the intelligence.
HonestReporting critiqued the Helm piece, noting the journalist’s previous record of anti-Israel bias and outright lies. But things really took off after we were supplied with photos of Bilal Masoud, the main subject of the article, carrying an AK-47 assault rifle. This, despite Helm portraying the since deceased Palestinian as a relatively harmless stone thrower armed only with a slingshot.
On this basis, we lodged a formal complaint with The Sunday Times and received the same canned response as some of our readers, which fails to address our specific issues. Holding up another piece published on the same day as evidence of ‘balance’ and ‘even-handedness,’ The Sunday Times avoids the real issues, failing to address the actual complaint.
Given the impersonal nature of the response, we have chosen to republish it here with some of the sections bolded that we will be addressing ourselves:
Thank you for getting in touch. I’m sorry you disliked Sarah Helm’s feature in The Sunday Times Magazine. She reported the testimony of Palestinians affected by the bloodshed at the border fence since March 2018. We believe that it is in the public interest to understand how they view their situation.
However, we understand that these are contentious issues and that there are two sides to the story of Israel and Palestine. For that reason, in the same edition we gave equal weight and space to a very forthright article by Rod Liddle putting forward the perspective of Jewish UK citizens who have emigrated to Israel. If you read the piece, you will see he gives extensive consideration to rocket and tunnel attacks on Israeli territory: and in the accompanying video in our online edition, he travels with the IDF to inspect tunnels dug by Hamas and Hezbollah (which he refers to as terrorist organisations) to enable attacks on Israel. You may not be surprised to learn that, as you have complained about Sarah Helm’s article, Liddle’s report has been subject to complaints from those who take a different view of the conflict.
In both cases, our writers were attempting to give a platform to voices that often go unheard in a fractious debate. We believe they have done so, and that our approach in facilitating this has been demonstrably even-handed.
Finally, thank you for your views. They have been noted, and we will give them due consideration when planning our future coverage of these issues.
A number of points:
- We have no problem with differing points of view of the conflict appearing in the newspaper but why does The Sunday Times need to create a false balance? Each article deserves to be judged on its individual merits and not used as a means of ‘balancing’ each other out. Publishing a separate story that deals fairly with the topic at hand cannot be used as an excuse not to deal with a serious breaches of professional journalism.
- Claiming even-handedness assumes that both sides are equal. This isn’t necessarily the case. It also assumes that the two journalists in question, Sarah Helm and Rod Liddle, have treated their subjects in an equally professional manner. We don’t believe this to be the case irrespective of the number of complaints received on each story.
- Is it really something we should be grateful for that Rod Liddle refers to Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist organizations?! That’s a pretty low bar and shouldn’t be seen as being “pro-Israel” but simply a recognition of factual reality rather than opinion.
- The Sunday Times fails to address the main point of the complaint: that Sarah Helm has deliberately or otherwise misrepresented who Bilal Masoud was in order to present a sympathetic portrayal of him as a victim of Israeli violence. Our complaint asked if Sunday Times editors were aware of Masoud’s background before the story went to print. Are Sunday Times editors too embarrassed to acknowledge that they gave a platform to a journalist with a track record of dubious ethics and got burned?
It appears that The Sunday Times finds it easier to insult its readers’ intelligence rather than to deal with the damning evidence that we presented.
We will be following up on our complaint. Watch this space.
Source material can be found at this site.