How deliberately inflammatory may a newspaper headline be?

Sent to the Editor of Swedish daily Expressen on 21 May 2004.

Eight Palestinian civilians were killed in a tragic mistake during the ongoing war in Gaza this past week. The apparent cause was that an Israeli missile fired as a warning shot either entered the wrong trajectory or accidentally hit an area that had been previously mined by Palestinians to stop the Israeli advance, which explains the huge explosion and the large number of casualties.

During the ongoing action – the aim of which is to terminate the tunnels from Egyptian Rafah that are used to smuggle in weapons and explosives to the Gaza strip – 13 Israeli soldiers have also been killed and their bodies desecrated and offered on public auction. In addition, about 40 heavily armed Palestinians have been killed, weapons in hand. It’s an ongoing tragedy of unparalleled horror for all concerned.

However, when Expressen dubs a mistake a “massacre”, the newspaper simply injects even more poison into an already infected conflict. The newspaper is guilty of deliberate, callous misinterpretation and libel.

The last time we read banner headlines that screamed “massacre”, the focus was on Jenin. There were unconfirmed yet eagerly published claims of 500 deaths, which editors shamefacedly later had to revise to 52 Palestinian deaths, caused during an action that also claimed the lives of 23 Israelis. Of those 52 Palestinians, 47 were young men with guns and explosives in their hands, four were women and one was a young child.

Many different figures, but it all adds up to zero massacres and one lie. But a big one.

Expressen’s Web editors need to double-checkd the facts before committing themselves to print. After all, it is a policy that the paper pursues extremely rigorously in every other area of reporting.