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Journalists





Unlike The Atlantic, Reuters Doesn’t Meet “Mandatory Minimum” of Accountability


After Israel enacted harsher penalties for those convicted of stone-throwing and similar nationalistic attacks last September, an article in The Atlantic described the new measures as imposing "a minimum four-year prison term for Palestinians who throw rocks and Molotov cocktails."

As an Israeli law, though, it applies to all Israeli citizens and residents, whether Jewish or Arab, while Palestinians rock throwers in the West Bank are more likely to be prosecuted under military regulations.

The Atlantic's inaccurate statement may have been the influence of a Reuters piece cited in that same story. Reuters, too, described the penalty as being imposed "on Palestinian" attackers:

Israel will impose a minimum four-year jail term on Palestinian petrol bombers and rock throwers and will ease open-fire regulations and impose harsher fines, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday.

But in his remarks that Thursday, Netanyahu was very specific: The law, he explained, would apply to "all citizens and residents of Israel." Reuters was flatly wrong about what "Netanyahu said." And it was wrong in its headline, "Israel tightens crackdown on Palestinian petrol bomb, stone-throwers."

The errors by The Atlantic and Reuters were virtually the same. But the way the two media outlets responded to calls for corrections this week couldn't be more different.

Atlantic editors were responsive to public concerns and looked into the matter, showing their commitment to the journalistic guideline calling for accountability. And after their investigation, they promptly amended the erroneous language, per ethical guidelines requiring accuracy. The headline was changed from "Tossing the Book at Palestinian Stone-Throwers" to "Israel Throws the Book at Stone-Throwers." The passage about "a mandatory four-year term for Palestinians" was changed to "a minimum four-year prison term for those who throw rocks and Molotov cocktails in Israel and the predominantly Arab East Jerusalem."

Reuters, unfortunately, did not show such a commitment to accountability and accuracy. Jerusalem bureau chief Luke Baker insisted readers would know from the story that the law was non-specific. (They wouldn't.) And Reuters standards editor Alix Freedman failed even to respond to queries about the article.

This follows a similar incident last month in which Baker defended Reuters' removal from an article Israel's account of a disputed shooting (Palestinian allegations, on the other hand, were left in the piece), and in which Freedman declined to get involved.


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