Ofcom vindicates Al Jazeera after PLO complaint

Rebecca Hawkes ©RapidTVNews | 11-10-2011

UK regulatory body Ofcom has ruled that Al Jazeera English did not breach broadcasting regulations in its coverage of 1,600 leaked diplomatic documents from talks between Israel, Palestine and the US.
The Qatar-based satellite broadcaster disclosed the contents of the extensive secret files in a four part documentary series, The Palestine Papers, aired in January on both its Arabic and English channels. The papers detailed controversial concessions offered by the Palestinian Authority to appease Israel.
The Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) complained to Ofcom that Al Jazeera's programmes had breached the privacy of Dr Saeb Erakat, chief negotiator for the Palestinian Authority, who was present at meetings detailed in the leaked documents.
He also complained he had been treated unfairly by the news network as contextual information had been omitted from the reports.
Al Jazeera said reasonable care had been taken to ensure facts were presented with care, and that US and British intelligence officials had confirmed authenticity of the documents. Furthermore, PLO officials - including Erakat - had also been invited to participate in the programmes, but they had all declined.
The broadcaster also refuted the allegation that material was presented out of context, explaining the documents had been published online in their entirety, for the audience to digest.
Ofcom ruled that there had been "significant public interest" in the content of the leaked documents, and sided with Al Jazeera. The regulator said the series did not omit contextual information, that Erakat was not portrayed unfairly in dramatic reconstructions, and that he and the PLO were given adequate time to participate. After refusing to participate, their position was represented in the programme, said Ofcom.
The regulator also decided that the four-part documentary series did not omit contextual information, that dramatic reconstructions did not portray Erakat unfairly, and that he and the PLO were given sufficient time to take part and after they refused their position was represented.
"This is a resounding vindication of our journalism, our decision to release the papers, and our handling of it," said Ahmad bin Jasem Al Thani, Al Jazeera's new director general.
"We recognize that presenting this volume of information was bold for a television channel. However, the worldwide positive reaction to the series, and this latest judgment, shows that we handled it in an informative and responsible manner," he added.
"Ofcom's decision on the claim of an infringement of privacy is a particularly important one. It is the job of journalists to challenge the decisions taken by people in positions of public accountability, and to shine a light in the corridors where important decisions are being taken."
Erakat resigned from the Palestinian Authority in February, following Al Jazeera's disclosure of the documents.