Australian Broadcasting Corporation backs down over false and damaging report on UNRWA

22 October 2012

East Jerusalem

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) has been forced to issue an apology, correction, and clarification to a report on the World Today Programme about the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), after a complaint from the Labour Member of Parliament for Fremantle, Melissa Parke. This follows an investigation by the ABC into the item compiled by reporter Anne Barker and producer Yoav Appel.

The broadcast, which contained factual errors, also included unsubstantiated claims about UNRWA’s neutrality made by a far-right ideologue, who has in the past shared a byline with an active supporter of Meir Kahane, who was a convicted terrorist and founder of extremist groups outlawed in many countries, including Israel.

In a letter to Ms. Parke, the ABC admitted that the report “did not meet the requirements” of its Code of Practice and expressed its “regrets for this lapse in standards.”

Ms. Parke said, "This was an outrageous attack on UNRWA, a neutral UN agency that does essential human development and humanitarian work with some of the most disadvantaged, in one of the world‘s most unstable regions. For the ABC to put on air the views of such a discredited source and dress it up as journalism was an affront to the ABC’s editorial values."

Reacting to the news of the ABC back-down, UNRWA Spokesperson Chris Gunness said, “I hope this ruling sends a strong signal to all journalists covering our Agency that there will be accountability for peddling tired and unchecked canards and unquestioningly putting on air people who dress up unsubstantiated and politically-motivated comment as fact. I am sad that the ABC has been taken for a ride and would urge them, as I would urge all broadcasters, to make proper checks before they risk harm to their reputations.”

Background Information

UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and is mandated to provide assistance and protection to a population of some 5 million registered Palestine refugees. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip to achieve their full potential in human development, pending a just solution to their plight. UNRWA’s services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, and microfinance.

Financial support to UNRWA has not kept pace with an increased demand for services caused by growing numbers of registered refugees, expanding need, and deepening poverty. As a result, the Agency's General Fund (GF), supporting UNRWA’s core activities and 97 per cent reliant on voluntary contributions, has begun each year with a large projected deficit. Currently the deficit stands at US$ 100 million.

For more information, please contact:

Christopher Gunness
UNRWA Spokesperson
+972 (0)54 240 2659
+972 (0)2 589 0267
Sami Mshasha
Chief of Communications & Arabic Language Spokesperson
+972 (0)54 216 8295
+972 (0)2 589 0724