Legal challenge to UK press over “grossly misreported” Palestine meeting

The launch of the Balfour Apology Campaign last year was marred by press misreporting. (PRC)

Campaigners on Friday unveiled a legal challenge to the British print media’s self-regulating body over inaccurate coverage of a Palestinian meeting in Parliament last year.

Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine activist Jonathan Coulter is attempting to crowdfund initial legal costs of about $27,000.

The Independent Press Standards Organization, IPSO, in April mostly dismissed Coulter’s complaint on behalf of the Palestinian Return Centre about coverage by The Times and The Sunday Times.

The event was a launch of the Palestinian Return Centre’s campaign asking the UK government to apologize for the Balfour Declaration – the British colonial edict of 1917 which ultimately led to the expulsion of more than half the Arab population of Palestine in 1948.

Sunday Times columnist Rod Liddle accused the meeting’s chairperson, Jenny Tonge, of “Jew-hating” and claimed the Palestinian Return Centre had “spouted the sort of stuff you might have heard in Berlin in 1936, or Tehran in 2012.”

A formal complaint of anti-Semitism at the meeting first came from Israeli ambassador Mark Regev, seemingly based on the account of notorious anti-Palestinian blogger David Collier.

But an official parliamentary investigation in March dismissed such claims, finding that “there was no takeover of the event by people promoting anti-Semitism, and that therefore Baroness Tonge was not obliged to deal with any such takeover.”

State-sponsored smears

The Israeli government has for years attacked the Palestinian Return Centre, a UK-based advocacy organization, with baseless smears.

These have included allegations made without presenting any evidence that the group was “organizing radical and violent activity against Israel in Europe” and that it was an “affiliate” of Hamas, a Palestinian political party with an armed resistance wing.

IPSO – which is actually funded by the same newspapers it purports to regulate – ignored the investigation by a House of Lords committee, and claimed that Liddle’s distortion of the facts “was plainly comment” rather than reporting.

Coulter said that the case could embolden politicians “to speak up in favor of a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Few will currently do this because they fear being smeared in the media as anti-Semitic.”

As the first ever judicial review brought against IPSO, Coulter says the case will also aid the campaign “for radical reform of the system of press regulation.”

The case is being backed by Hacked Off, a group which campaigns against press abuses such as phone hacking.

Coulter said that “IPSO is a sham and an affront to fair process” which protects newspaper owners from accountability.

The case “seeks to uphold our right to unfettered debate about Israel and Palestine,” said Coulter.

His campaign had already raised more than $3,000 on its first day.

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A special note of appreciation to Asa Winstanley's'
excellent reporting of events in the UK.

----Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

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Every UK Political Party contains a "Friends of Israel" Section. The UK Parliamentary Conservative Party has 80% of it`s MPs as "Friends of Israel". The Labour Party about 35%. This Fact does NOT Appear in any Party`s Election Pamphlets or TV Politicals. Who Do Our MPs Represent? Israel? Obviously NOT UK Voters.

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Asa Winstanley

Asa Winstanley's picture

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist and associate editor with The Electronic Intifada. He lives in London. Biography here.