by Kevin Ovenden
Here’s an illustrative little tale. Last Sunday’s Observer carried an inaccurate report of what George Galloway said at the pro-Palestine demonstration. It claimed:
In one of several speeches delivered in Kensington Gardens, George Galloway, leftwing MP for the Respect party, called on protesters to go to shopping centres and “shut down Israel’s shops” in what was believed to be a reference to retailers, including Marks & Spencer, which have come under fire for selling Israeli-sourced goods.
Cue the predictable claims of George inciting Kristalnacht against M&S and baring his supposedly anti-Semitic fangs.
The Observer were contacted by phone swiftly on Sunday morning and, following a conversation with a journalist who promised quick remedial action, by email at around 10.30am:
the email pointed out that:
1) the quote attributed is wrong. Mr Galloway spoke of “Israel shops” The language is precise. There are in the two shopping malls he mentioned mobile retailers called “Israel Shops”, which are staffed by Israelis and promote Israeli/West Bank goods – Dead Sea skin products etc. Mr Galloway was being extremely careful to focus his comments precisely.
2) not only did Mr Galloway not intend to refer generally to retailers he is on film the night before speaking in the London Muslim Centre explicitly and categorically stating that Marks & Spencer should NOT be boycotted, explaining that it is a public company owned by shareholders like any other and has nothing to do with Israel. This is a very sensitive area, where innuendo and mishearing can have dangerous consequences. (It is highly regrettable that the reporters seek to explicate what they think Mr Galloway meant by passively referring to what unnamed people might believe, in fact groundlessly given the misquote.)
We are insisting on an immediate online correction to the story and a suitably prominent correction in the next edition of the Observer. In our view, this piece can be easily read to impute motives and beliefs to Mr Galloway which, if they were true, would be considered reprehensible by the right thinking public. They are not true.
For reasons that have nothing to do with the failings of any individual employee but which do reveal a complacent and supercilious culture at the paper, it took several unanswered phone calls, emails and voicemail messages before the following online correction was finally made on Tuesday evening – nearly three days after the false story first appeared. It said,
This article was amended on 13 January 2009. We reported that George Galloway MP had called for a boycott of ‘Israel’s shops’. This was incorrect. He called for a boycott of Israel Shops, mobile retailers who operate in shopping malls selling Israeli goods.
As well as being ungracious there was no acknowledgement that it was at the very least unwise for the journalists who wrote the story to throw in what they thought might be believed to be the meaning of words which they had misheard and hadn’t take the time to check with either George or someone authoritative.
As I say, this is a relatively trivial matter – though right wing websites have had a field day and naturally won’t disseminate a correction that has come so very late in the day.
I live in hope, though, that this episode might further caution people who are genuinely on the left but sceptical of George and Respect from believing just about every bit rubbish about him churned out in the corporate media.