Following correspondence with the Daily Mail’s MailOnline, the story below has been further amended and a correction issued. The correction at the end of the story reads:
An earlier version of this article stated that Israel had opened river dams in the south of the country, causing flooding in the Gaza strip. In fact, there are no dams in southern Israel and the flooding was caused by rain and drainage issues. We are happy to clarify this.
In addition, a quote from Palestinian Brigadier General Said Al-Saudi that accused Israel of opening dams has been removed in its entirety. A sentence referring to “two of Gaza’s main West Bank cities” has also been corrected.
HonestReporting Managing Editor Simon Plosker said:
Clearly it would have been preferable that this story was never published. However, once the Daily Mail was made aware of the gravity of the error, the editorial staff took it seriously and acknowledged the problem.
I believe that this has been a teachable moment concerning proper fact-checking and reliable sources for the journalists involved and I’m pleased that MailOnline agreed to take remedial action.
* * *
False charges from Palestinians that Israel had opened southern dams, flooding Gaza, appeared in a number of media outlets including AFP, Al-Jazeera, RT, Maan and Xinhua. The story was proven to be an outright lie by virtue of the fact that there are no dams in Israel’s south, as confirmed by Israeli authorities in a statement to HonestReporting. (See “Dam Busted: Palestinian Lie Exposed“)
AFP, as the one mainstream and purportedly credible media outlet removed its video of the story. The other sites belong to news organizations whose credibility is questionable and consigned to the fringes of professional journalism. So it was extremely disappointing to see the Daily Mail’s MailOnline (cached version available to view here), the world’s most-read news website, publish the story based on Al-Jazeera’s report.
HonestReporting notified MailOnline late on Monday night requesting that the story be removed in its entirety. Instead, some hours later, through a sleight of hand, MailOnline made amendments to the story without acknowledging the changes or the initial damage. Compare the updated headline and subheads to the original above:
While the headline no longer accuses Israel of opening non-existent dams, the Palestinian charge remains in the story falsely “balanced” by an Israeli statement denying responsibility. Instead of removing the story, the Daily Mail has given equal weight to the Israeli truth and the Palestinian lie effectively turning it into a “he said, she said” dispute.
The New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan has addressed this form of faulty journalism in one of her columns:
Simply put, false balance is the journalistic practice of giving equal weight to both sides of a story, regardless of an established truth on one side. And many people are fed up with it. They don’t want to hear lies or half-truths given credence on one side, and shot down on the other. They want some real answers.
MailOnline has changed text in the article. For example, the opening sentence:
Hundreds of Palestinians were evacuated yesterday morning after Israeli authorities opened a number of dams causing widespread flooding.
Hundreds of Palestinians have been evacuated from their homes after heavy flooding caused water levels in Gaza Valley to rise by up to 10 feet.
The following remains in the article:
Brigadier General Said Al-Saudi, chief of the civil defence agency in Gaza, said that the dams were opened without warning.
‘Israel opened water dams, without warning, last night, causing serious damage to Gazan villages near the border,’ he told Al Jazeera.
but “balanced” by this:
The floods led to accusations from Palestinians that Israel had opened up dams along the river to intentionally cause the flooding – something which Israeli officials vehemently deny.
A spokesman for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Palestinian Territories (COGAT) told VICE News: ‘These claims, I don’t know who started them, but they are completely false.
‘There are no dams in the southern part of Israel so we couldn’t open any dams because there aren’t any. I don’t know how these rumours got around.’
Incriminating photo captions have also been amended so as not to accuse Israel outright.
The caption for the photo above now reads:
As if to demonstrate the shoddy journalism at work, the following statement also appears in the story, in both the original and updated version:
Considering that Gaza and the West Bank are two separate geographical entities, it’s hard to see how flooding in Gaza could be compounded by a 45-minute power cut in the West Bank.
Ultimately, what has been compounded is the damage done to Israel by MailOnline’s unethical failure to acknowledge that its reporter has been caught out sourcing content from unreliable and agenda-driven news outlets.
MailOnline is in breach of the Editors’ Code of Practice, which it signed up to and is enforced by the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO).
Clause 1 on accuracy states:
- The press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.
- A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving the Regulator, prominence should be agreed with the Regulator in advance.
MailOnline, by virtue of treating the Palestinian claim as credible, is still publishing inaccurate and misleading information. Likewise, the amendments made by MailOnline upon being informed of the errors, have not been given due prominence and an apology is certainly in order.