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Liar of the Month April : The Guardian

A Success: The Guardian published a Correction after Take-A-Pen's Justified Complaint !

To the Editor of The Guardian                                                             May 20, 2004

To the Ombudsman of The Guardian

 

Sir,

Subject: THE GUARDIAN IS THE LIAR OF THE MONTH in April 2004 at Take-A-Pen!

 

I have the unpleasant duty to inform you that The Guardian won this time the disrespectful title of  "THE LIAR OF THE MONTH." So, The Guardian is THE LIAR OF THE MONTH in April 2004 at Take-A-Pen!

The title was published in the beginning of May on our site http://www.take-a-pen.org/ , so I have to apologize for some delay of this announcement to you.

 

It is not easy to be an outstanding or #1 liar in today's frequently brutal and greedily dishonest media competition, what we, Take-A-Pen, are watching in 15 languages. The Guardian was a candidate and runner up several times for the title in the past, with articles promoting hatred or patent lies about Israel. Recently I read thoroughly your International edition for a full week in Paris, and found daily strong candidates there. But this time the lie was so clear and simple to see and to check, that the decision that THE GUARDIAN IS THE LIAR OF THE MONTH - went unchallenged.

You can see below your article and the Reader's Letter of Maurice Ostroff, and judge it yourself .

It is a particular shame for The Guardian which used to claim to be a guardian of truth.

 

To consider The Guardian a liar is no fun, it is a sad feeling of a great loss. We'd be the happiest to see a change in the policy of The Guardian. That you are back to checking  well the Muslim hate-propaganda and  staged Palestinian photos before publishing them, that you do not give free pass neither to patent Israel-hatred nor to cunningly disguised Jew-hatred, like in the case we found here.

If you want to start to consider such a change, we'll willingly share with you our findings, before or even without publishing them.

 

Sincerely,

 

Endre Mozes

Chairman, Take-A-Pen

 

This was the actual news item:
 
On April 13, the Hungarian police arrested 3 Arabs, suspected of planning to attack a Jewish museum in Budapest.
 
This is what appeared on page 9 of the April 14 Guardian International:
 

 
 

The editor of the printed version of the Guardian International Edition of Wednesday, April 14, 2004, Nick Thorpe writes that a 'Jewish' terror plot was foiled!

Would this not be an Arab terror plot?

 

 
Here follows Take a Pen's reader's letter to the Guardian:
 
To the editor of the Guardian,
To the ombudsman of the Guardian,

My first reaction on reading the bold headline "Hungary Foils 'Jewish' Terror Plot" on page 9 of the April 14 Guardian International, was increased resentment against those troublesome Jews, now plotting terror attacks in Hungary.

Only after reading the entire article did I realize that the headline was completely misleading. The plot was not by Jews, but against Jews. A typical case of the victim represented as the culprit.

Admittedly on re-reading the headline, I became aware of the quotation marks surrounding the word Jewish.

In the circumstances, I believe you will agree that
a) Headlines have a major influence on readers impressions. A great number of readers skim their newspaper headlines without reading the entire articles.
b) This headline creates the definite impression that a plot by Jews, not against Jews, had been foiled.
b) Few readers would have paid attention to the quotation marks around the word Jewish and even for those who did notice them, the significance is unclear..

As the Guardian prides itself on presenting a fair view of the news, I trust we may expect a prominent clarification of this highly misleading headline.

Incidentally, the code of the US Society of Professional Journalists requires that headlines must not misrepresent, nor oversimplify, nor highlight incidents out of context.

Sincerely
Maurice Ostroff
 

A success - The Guardian accepted our complaint as justified!

The following reactions of the Guardian's Ombudsman was published on the website of the Guardian:
 

Open door

A dangerous kind of ambiguity

The readers' editor on ... a justified complaint about an indefensible headline

Ian Mayes
Saturday May 29, 2004
 

The Guardian

Among my recent emails was one from Haifa in Israel which came quickly to the point: "Sir, the Guardian is liar of the month in April 2004 at Take-a-Pen." Take-a-Pen, I discovered, is a lobby group founded by Endre Mozes in late 2000. He set it up to try to counter the effects of the adverse media coverage Israel was receiving after the beginning of the second intifada, or Palestinian uprising.

In his email to me Mr Mozes explained that it was a headline in Guardian International, the edition of the paper that he read during a week in Paris, that attracted his attention. It read: "Hungary foils 'Jewish' terror plot."

On his website, he reproduces the headline and part of the page of April 14 on which it appeared, with this introduction: "On April 13, the Hungarian police arrested three Arabs suspected of planning to attack a Jewish museum in Budapest. The editor of the printed version of the Guardian international edition ... Nick Thorpe, writes that a 'Jewish' terror plot was foiled."

Mr Mozes' email also copied to me a letter from Maurice Ostroff, said to have been sent to the Guardian earlier. It had not reached me. All my correspondence is logged and I have been unable to find any trace of it. The letter says: "My first reaction on reading the bold headline 'Hungary foils "Jewish" terror plot' ... was increased resentment against those troublesome Jews now plotting terror attacks in Hungary.

"Only after reading the entire article did I realise that the headline was completely misleading. The plot was not by Jews but against Jews. A typical case of the victim misrepresented as the culprit.

"Admittedly, on rereading the headline, I became aware of the quotation marks surrounding the word Jewish."

To pause for a moment here - Nick Thorpe is not the editor of the international edition. He did not write the headline. He is the journalist who filed the report from Budapest. Nowhere in it were the events he described referred to as a Jewish terror plot. I find it hard to believe that Mr Ostroff had to read the entire article to realise that the headline was misleading. Nick Thorpe's first paragraph says: "A possible plot to blow up a new Holocaust museum in Budapest appeared to have been foiled yesterday when detectives arrested three men, a Palestinian and two Syrians, on suspicion of planning an attack." That appears to me to resolve immediately any ambiguity in the headline.

Mr Ostroff's email continues: "I believe you will agree that (a) headlines have a major influence on readers' impressions. A great number of readers skim their newspaper headlines without reading the entire articles; (b) this headline creates the definite impression that a plot by Jews, not against Jews, has been foiled; (c) few readers would have paid attention to the quotation marks around the word 'Jewish' and even for those who did notice them, the significance is unclear."

We have covered this ground before, when the word "massacre" appeared in quotation marks in a headline about Jenin. On that occasion it was supported by remarks by a Palestinian quoted in the accompanying report. On the present occasion the headline appeared to be saying exactly the opposite of what the text of the story said.

I agree with almost everything Mr Ostroff said in the second part of his email, quoted above. The headline is indefensible and should not have appeared. I would have come to that conclusion had Mr Ostroff's email reached me earlier. In the circumstances it would be churlish to complain about the overstated presentation on the Take-a-Pen website, which monitors and comments upon media coverage in 15 languages. But, "liar"?

The headline to which the website rightly objected appeared only in the international edition. It did not appear in any edition of the Guardian printed in the United Kingdom. It did not appear on any report on the Guardian's own website.

The headline was not written by anyone on the staff of Guardian International. It was written by a subeditor for the main paper but changed after the page had been sent on to the next stage before publication. The page was withdrawn and a new version was then sent with the headline: Hungarian police foil terror plot. This is the headline you will find on the Guardian website. Guardian International, working at maximum pressure near its early deadline, picked up and printed the earlier page. It had no warning that a significant revision had been made. Until the system is improved it will remain a recipe for disaster. This time, with a little goodwill, some of the damage may be repaired. See: http://www.take-a-pen.org/.

· Readers may contact the office of the readers' editor by telephoning 0845 451 9589 between 11am and 5pm Monday to Friday (all calls are charged at local rate).
Mail to Readers' editor, The Guardian, 119 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3ER.
Fax 020-7239 9997.
Email: reader@guardian.co.uk

 
Take a Pen's reaction:

The Guardian's Ombudsman's honest report and attention to our complaint will make a very positive contribution in improving the Guardian's strongly questioned reputation as a guardian of the truth. We now hope for a continuing fair exchange with The Guardian.

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