Ofcom tells Erekat: Al Jazeera was fair

By Marcus Dysch, October 11, 2011
Saeb Erekat

Saeb Erekat

The broadcast regulator, Ofcom, has rejected a complaint of unfairness made by chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat against the Al Jazeera news channel.

Dr Erekat complained about how he was portrayed in a four-part series, The Palestine Papers, broadcast on the English-language version of the station in January.

He said the documentaries, which examined hundreds of leaked diplomatic documents from peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, had been unfair to him and the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

Included in the programmes were reconstructions of negotiations, analysis from experts, and the views of the Palestinian public.

In the first episode, concentrating on Jerusalem, an actor was used to play Dr Erekat and reproduce his role in peace talks. The scene revealed the concessions the Palestinians were willing to make to Israel over the city.

Dr Erekat said a comment allegedly made by him during the negotiations, which referred to an offer to the Israelis of "the biggest Yerushalem [sic] in history", had been "inaccurately attributed to him" and that Al Jazeera had not verified the quote prior to broadcasting it.

But Ofcom found that Al Jazeera had taken the comment word-for-word directly from the shorthand minutes of the meeting and that their reconstruction of the meeting presented Dr Erekat in a "fair and even-handed manner".

The programmes also repeatedly featured interviews with Dr Erekat in which he accused Al Jazeera of presenting the information in the leaked papers out of context.

Ofcom said facts relating to negotiations had not been presented in an unfair way and that the reconstructions did not portray Dr Erekat unfairly. The watchdog said he was given opportunities to respond to the criticisms of him and that, although he did not participate in the shows, his position was included.

Dr Erekat's argument that the use of the leaked documents infringed his privacy was also rejected by Ofcom, which cited the "significant public interest, both in the Middle East and globally, in the issues".

Rejecting his complaint, Ofcom said: "The programmes contained a great deal of detailed analysis of the issues, both by the presenters and reporters involved and during the course of lengthy discussions between a wide range of guests on the programme.

"Ofcom took the view that Al Jazeera took reasonable care to satisfy itself that the material facts were not presented, disregarded or omitted in a way that was unfair to Dr Erekat and the PLO."

It said "nothing" in the way he was presented in the reconstructions was likely to have "adversely affected viewers' perceptions" of Dr Erekat.

Last updated: 11:34am, October 11 2011