The New Statesman on Wednesday claimed that its deletion of articles about Palestine last month had been “discourteous,” but “was not related to the contents.”
In a statement on its website, the century-old center-left UK magazine attributed the removal to “conversation within the organization about guidelines around advertorial and the presentation of advertiser-written content.”
“Advertorial” is a term used to describe paid content that looks like an editorial or journalistic article.
The explanation, however, remains at odds with some of the facts.
The New Statesman’s statement includes links to pages on the Palestine Solidarity Campaign website where the two deleted articles can still be read.
But the magazine has refused to republish the two articles, as PSC called on it to do last week.
The articles had been sponsored content, provided by PSC as part of a deal that began last year.
The most recent was by Salah Ajarma, a Palestinian who co-founded a cultural center in Bethlehem’s Aida refugee camp.
In a PSC statement last week, Ajarma responded: “living under occupation we are used to our voices being silenced by Israel – but we expect better from the UK which is supposed to be a democracy.”
The deletion of Ajarma’s article came only two days after pro-Israel blogs had started a campaign against the New Statesman and PSC.
A post by the editor of UK Media Watch, a pro-Israel group, had claimed the PSC was “compromised by links to extremism.”
Welcoming the latest statement from the New Statesman, PSC told its members in an email on Wednesday that magazine staff “have reassured us that the article was not removed because of lobby pressure.”
PSC wrote that the new statement came only due to members’ pressure, with the magazine being “inundated with 25,000 emails.”
“After the very large number of complaints the New Statesman received, and after we informed them of [a] forthcoming open letter, they requested to meet with the PSC,” the email stated.
Journalist John Pilger said the magazine’s action was a “cowardly suppression” and “the kind of pressure that real journalists resist.”
The new claim of New Statesman editor Jason Cowley that the deletions were not down to Israel lobby pressure contradicts an initial claim by the magazine’s commercial arm.
PSC revealed last week that “in an email to the PSC, the New Statesman initially stated that the article had been removed as a result of ‘reader complaints,’ [but] they would not give detail on the nature of the complaints or from whom they had been received.”
The two articles were deleted without any notice or disclosure.
It is this lack of notice that the magazine is now grudgingly climbing down on, not the act of censorship itself: “we removed the post without explanation to the PSC, which was discourteous.”
At first, PSC had attempted to resolve the issue directly with the magazine’s commercial arm, to no avail – the magazine refusing even to let PSC talk to editorial staff.
PSC director Ben Jamal then said the incident is “a sad reflection of the political climate we inhabit that voices raised in support of the Palestinian struggle for justice and equal rights routinely face a concerted lobby to silence them. We expect journals like the New Statesman to withstand such pressure and demonstrate a commitment to freedom of expression.”
It was only after PSC asked supporters to express their disagreement that the issue was forced into the public eye.
UK Media Watch had also boasted publicly about a successful campaign to have PSC’s content “removed” by the magazine.
The New Statesman has still not explained what it was about the two articles or about PSC that prompted removal.
The New Statesman did not respond on Thursday when asked if any other sponsored articles had been or would be removed.
In its only comment to The Electronic Intifada, the magazine wrote last week that “the relationship with the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign was purely a commercial arrangement, conducted without editorial collaboration.”
But PSC staff have told The Electronic Intifada that they removed parts of Ajarma’s initial draft at the request of the magazine. The PSC said last week that “Salah’s article was seen and approved by New Statesman editorial team before it was published online.”