Saturday, May 27, 2006

The National Post's hidden apology

The original disgraceful story was on the front pager under a pandering photo of a Jewish couple in occupied Europe wearing the yellow stars. It was available on-line and in it's online form probably had millions of hits.

The insulting weasel-worded retraction by contrast is hidden behind a subscriber window, and buried deep in the site. Following in the footsteps of Canadian Journalist I'm presenting the whole 'apology' here.

Wednesday May 24 2006

Our mistake: Note to readers

Douglas Kelly
National Post

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Last Friday, the National Post ran a story prominently on the front
page alleging that the Iranian parliament had passed a law that, if
enacted, would require Jews and other religious minorities in Iran to
wear badges that would identify them as such in public. It is now
clear the story is not true. Given the seriousness of the error, I
felt it necessary to explain to our readers how this happened.

The story of the alleged badge law first came to us in the form of a
column by Amir Taheri. Mr. Taheri, an Iranian author and journalist,
has written widely on Iran for many major publications. In his
column, Mr. Taheri wrote at length about the new law, the main
purpose of which is to establish an appropriate dress code for
Muslims. Mr. Taheri went on to say that under the law, "Religious
minorities would have their own colour schemes. They will also have
to wear special insignia, known as zonnar, to indicate their non-
Islamic faith."

This extraordinary allegation caught our attention, of course. The
idea that Iran might impose such a law did not seem out of the
question given that its President has denied the Holocaust and
threatened to "wipe Israel off the map." We tried to contact Mr.
Taheri, but he was in transit and unreachable.

The editor who was dealing with Mr. Taheri's column wrote to Rabbi
Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los
Angeles. The Wiesenthal Center is an international Jewish human
rights organization that keeps a close watch on issues affecting the
treatment of Jews around the world, and maintains contacts in many
countries, including Iran. Asked about the specific allegation that
Iran had passed a law requiring religious minorities to identify
themselves, Rabbi Cooper replied by e-mail that the story was
"absolutely true." When a reporter spoke to Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean
of the Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, a short while later, Rabbi
Hier said the story was true and added that the organization had sent
a letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan asking him to take up the
matter. (Rabbi Hier has since said that, contrary to the
understanding of the reporter, the Wiesenthal Center had not
independently confirmed Mr. Taheri's allegation.)

The reporter also spoke with two Iranian exiles in Canada -- Ali
Behroozian in Toronto and Shahram Golestaneh in Ottawa. Both said
that they had heard the the story of the badges from their contacts
in Iran and they believed it to be true.

Canada's Foreign Affairs Department did not respond to questions
about the issue until after deadline, and then only to say they were
looking into the matter. After several calls to the Iranian embassy
in Ottawa, the reporter reached Hormoz Ghahremani, a spokesman for
the embassy. Mr. Ghahremani's response to the allegation was that he
did not answer such questions.

We now had four sources -- Mr. Taheri, the Wiesenthal Center and two
Iranian exiles in Canada -- telling us that according to their
sources the Iranian law appeared to include provisions for compelling
religious minorities to identify themselves in public. Iranian
authorities in Canada had not denied the story. Given the sources,
and given the previous statements of the Iranian President, we felt
confident the story was true and decided to publish it.

The reaction was immediate and distressing. Several experts whom the
reporter had tried unsuccessfully to contact the day before called to
say the story was not true. The Iranian embassy put out a statement
late in the day doing what it had failed to do the day before --
unequivocally deny such a law had been passed.

The reporter continued to try to determine whether there was any
truth to the story. Some sources said there had been some peripheral
discussion in the Iranian parliament of identifying clothing for
minority religions, but it became clear that the dress code bill,
which was introduced on May 14 and has not yet been passed into law,
does not include such provisions.

Mr. Taheri, who had written the column that sparked the story, was
again unreachable on Friday. He has since put out a statement saying
the National Post and others "jumped the gun" in our characterization
of his column. He says he was only saying the provisions affecting
minorities might happen at some point. All of the people who read the
column on the first day took it to mean the measure was part of a law
that had been passed. Mr. Taheri maintains the zonnar, or badges,
could still be put in effect when the dress code law is implemented.

On Saturday, the National Post ran another front-page story above the
fold with the Iranian denial and the comments of the experts casting
doubts on the original story.

It is corporate policy for all of CanWest's media holdings to face up
to their mistakes in an honest, open fashion. It is also the right
thing to do journalistically.

We acknowledge that on this story, we did not exercise sufficient
caution and skepticism, and we did not check with enough sources. We
should have pushed the sources we did have for more corroboration of
the information they were giving us. That is not to say that we
ignored basic journalistic practices or that we rushed this story
into print with no thought as to the consequences. But given the
seriousness of the allegations, more was required.

We apologize for the mistake and for the consternation it has caused
not just National Post readers, but the broader public who read the
story. We take this incident very seriously, and we are examining our
procedures to try to ensure such an error does not happen again.

Douglas Kelly,


Copyright © 2006 CanWest Interactive, a division of CanWest

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