Discussion of Australian Press Council.
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More publications join the Press Council
Three more publications have joined the Australian Press Council.
The new members are:
The Chair of the Press Council, Prof David Weisbrot, said the latest members reflect the breadth and range of the Australian media, as well as the warm welcome extended to publications that strive to serve the community by producing quality material.
“I’m delighted with the diversity of this latest group of new members,” Prof Weisbrot said. “One is a well-known and highly-respected publisher of long form journalism, another is a small paper that has been a very important part of its community for 30 years, and we are especially pleased to be able to embrace one of Australia’s increasingly-important multicultural publications.”
“What unites these three publications, and all of the Press Council’s member publications, is a genuine commitment to excellence and social responsibility.”
The Chairman of Schwartz Media, Morry Schwartz, said: “We’re proud to join the Press Council and to continue to see The Saturday Paper and The Monthly make an important contribution to Australian journalism.”
The Publisher of The Bush Telegraph Weekly, Kathie Comb, said she was pleased that the Press Council welcomed small publications as members. “We may be small, but I believe we serve an important need in our community,” she said. “Small publications can be every bit as committed to doing good journalism as the big mainstream players.”
Romeo Cayabyab, Publisher of the emanila websites, said the Press Council should be applauded for seeking out new members among the multicultural press.
“I see this as a clear indication that the Press Council recognises the importance of the multicultural press in Australia and the need for these publications to strive for high standards and independence just like any other member of the Council.”
Rhonda Hall / Pakenham Gazette
The Press Council considered a complaint by Rhonda Hall about an article in The Pakenham Gazette, headed “Devastated Drydens working to prevent suicide” on 17 August (online) and “Walk to keep going” on 19 August 2015 (in print). The article promoted a Lifeline community event and referred to the suicide of the complainant’s grandson the year before, including detail of the some of the problems he had faced.
The Council considered that the reporting of the circumstances of the suicide in the degree of detail given amounted to an unreasonable intrusion on his mother’s reasonable expectation of privacy and would have caused substantial distress. Neither the intrusion on privacy nor the distress was sufficiently justified in the public interest. Accordingly, the Council considered there was a breach of its General Principles 5 and 6 in these respects.
The Council’s Specific Standards on Coverage of Suicide 3 and 4 require that each report of suicide must be clearly in the public interest, and that informed consent is obtained prior to publication. In such sensitive circumstances, the publication should have sought confirmation from both parents that the story was accurate and agreed to its publication with the degree of detail given. Accordingly, these aspects of the complaint were also upheld.
The Council also noted that the nature of the report warranted the addition of an appropriate contact for crisis support or a source of assistance in accordance with Specific Standard 8, and this aspect the complaint was also upheld.
Complainant / The Australian
The Press Council considered whether its Standards of Practice were breached in an article in The Australian on 3 June 2015, headed “Green protest fines ‘paid by public’” in print and online.
The report concerned a submission by Senator Canavan to a House of Representatives inquiry into the use of the Register of Environmental Organisations, which confers tax-deductible status on donations to registered groups.
The article reported that the Senator provided evidence “of environmental organisations soliciting for tax-deductible donations to pay court fines” and also that “following substantial fines to anti-coal protesters who disrupted mining activities at Maules Creek, the Forest Alliance solicited for donations to cover the costs of fines”.
The Council considered that the article amounts to an accurate summary of a submission by Senator Canavan to a parliamentary inquiry and noted that the reporter made an effort to contact some of the organisations named in the submission for comment. The Council also considered that the article summarised the submission with fairness and balance.
Further, the Council found no remedial action was required but noted in any case that the publication provided an opportunity for the Forest Alliance to state their position in a subsequent article. Accordingly, the Council found no breach of its Standards in these respects.
Complainant / Herald Sun
The Press Council considered whether its Standards of Practice were breached in an article in the Herald Sun on 6 July 2015, headed “Welfare reforms ‘needed’”.
The article reported on the Commonwealth Government’s proposed welfare reforms, particularly for the long term unemployed. The first sentence read: “MORE than 70 percent of people on the dole have been milking the tax payer for more than a year.” The following sentence reported that “more than 500,000 people, or 70 percent, on the Newstart Allowance had received it for more than a year”.
The Press Council considered that the first sentence in the article clearly referred to all of the 70 percent of long term unemployed in suggesting recipients are “milking the taxpayer”, and the term “milking” clearly had a pejorative sense. No basis for that factual statement was identified elsewhere in the article. Accordingly, the Council concluded that the article breached General Principle 1.
The Council further noted a claim that all 70 percent of such recipients were “milking the taxpayer” was not attributed to any government minister. To the extent the reference may have been an opinion of the journalist, the Council noted no facts were presented to support that opinion, nor did the article include any balancing explanatory comment. Moreover, the article did not purport to be an opinion piece but was presented as news. Accordingly, the article was also a breach of General Principle 3.
Human Rights Law Centre Report
The Australian Press Council welcomes a timely new report by the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) that documents how federal and state governments are adopting laws and practices that have the effect of undermining critical components of the nation’s democracy.
The Chair of the Press Council, Professor David Weisbrot, said the HRLC’s Safeguarding Democracy report shines a bright light on the worrying trend by governments to chip away at press freedom, freedom of information, the rule of law, protest rights, NGO advocacy and other important institutions and safeguards that underpin an open government and our democratic way of life.
The report makes 38 recommendations aimed at halting this erosion and strengthening Australia’s democracy.
“The section of the report that examines press freedom and related issues is accurate and therefore very worrying,” Prof Weisbrot said. “The findings in this area reinforce the Press Council’s stated concerns that Australia is going backwards on press freedom at a time when we need it more than ever.
“Governments are restricting access to information, fortifying secrecy laws, stifling whistle-blowers and undermining the confidentiality of journalists’ sources. We must reverse this trend as a matter of urgency.”
Prof Weisbrot said the HRLC should be congratulated for its thoroughly-researched and extensive examination of the many issues that now threaten the foundations of Australian democracy.
“It is through reports such as this one, carefully-executed and professionally presented, that a strong case can be made for a change in direction in government policy in areas that affect every citizen,” he said.
Jennifer Rankine / The Australian
The Press Council has considered a complaint by Jennifer Rankine MP about nine articles in The Australian between 3 February and 5 May 2015, prompted by her resignation as the South Australian Minister for Education on 2 February, and repeating allegations concerning herself and the appointment of a public servant.
The Council has concluded that reporting that she had resigned “amid an investigation by authorities into an appointment of a public servant” was not technically incorrect and was not implying a causal link. However, the Council concluded there was no basis for reporting there were multiple investigations and that the Office of Public Integrity’s referral of the matter to ICAC was not a sufficient basis for reporting there were investigations by two bodies.
The Council also concluded that paraphrasing of the complainant’s remarks in the article on 4 February as “Ms Rankine has said ongoing investigations that first began in 2013…” was not an accurate paraphrase and inaccurately suggested she had resigned due to such investigations. Accordingly, this aspect of the complaint was upheld.
The Council noted the final article on 5 May is headed, “Ex-minister cleared by ICAC”, but the main section of article unfairly reprises allegations that had been found to be unsubstantiated and did not refer to the clearance by the ICAC Commissioner until late in the article. Accordingly, this aspect of the complaint was upheld.
In considering whether the complainant was provided a fair opportunity to respond to what was reported, the Council took account of the publication’s attempts to solicit comments, the substance of the article on 5 May, and that the complainant’s letter to the editor focuses on the principal issues in that article. Accordingly, this aspect of the complaint was not upheld.
New Advisory Guideline on Family And Domestic Violence Reporting
The Australian Press Council has issued a comprehensive Advisory Guideline for the reporting of family and domestic violence, aimed at helping journalists ensure that they produce accurate, balanced and respectful articles about this crucially important subject.
The Advisory Guideline was produced after an extensive six-month consultation process, which included Round Tables in three States and a thorough examination of relevant Press Council complaints, similar guidelines by other organisations, and a wide range of research literature.
The Guideline is not intended to constrain or discourage news coverage or forthright debate about family violence. However, editors and journalists routinely exercise judgment about which events to cover; what information to collect and from whom; what material to include and what should be excluded. The purpose of the Advisory Guideline is to help guide those considerations.
“Because family violence is such an urgent concern in our community, the Press Council decided that it should contribute decisively to helping improve and expand the coverage of it and of related social problems,” said Council Chair Professor David Weisbrot.
“Our Round Tables brought together experts from the sector, as well as survivors, police and senior journalists and editors with experience in such reporting. It was really gratifying to see the way in which people from different sectors, backgrounds and interests worked so constructively towards a common goal.
“Those discussions, and the other consultative work we engaged in, have allowed us to produce what I think is going to be a very useful, effective and influential document.”
The Guideline provides important background and contextual information for journalists, and then outlines a series of practical considerations that should be in play when articles about family violence are being prepared.
“It’s vitally important when reporting on family and intimate partner violence to avoid sensationalism and to couch the events in a broader social context; to understand that it affects us all,” said Kay Schubach, an advocate and consultant on women’s rights. “These APC guidelines keep a focus on responsible and respectful journalism and are essential to those of us revealing our personal stories to the public."
Moo Baulch, Chief Executive Officer of Domestic Violence NSW, said: “Domestic, family and sexual violence is one of the most urgent challenges that we face as a nation, and media have played a huge role in the shift in public perceptions around the unacceptability of such violence. We are delighted to be working with the Australian Press Council and some outstanding journalists to improve the ethics of reporting on this issue.”
The new Advisory Guideline will be distributed widely to journalists working at all of the Press Council’s member publications, as well as via various organisations in the sector. The Council has also prepared related material on the legal restrictions around such reporting, as well as a list of useful references and resources for journalists wishing to arrange interviews with experts or learn more about the subject.
Press Council adopts Reconciliation Action Plan
The Australian Press Council has adopted its first Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), which documents the objectives and strategies that the Council will employ over the next three years to promote understanding and reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
The RAP was adopted at the latest full meeting of Council members and it will now be submitted to the Reconciliation Council for review, in accordance with established processes.
According to Reconciliation Australia, RAPs “provide a framework for organisations to realise their vision for reconciliation. RAPs are practical plans of action built on relationships, respect and opportunities. RAPs create social change and economic opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians”.
“I believe it is high time for the Press Council to adopt a Reconciliation Action Plan, and the lack of one until now is a matter of some regret,” said Council Chair Professor David Weisbrot, who assumed duties last year. “Many of the 900 mastheads that make up the Council have their own RAPs, but it’s very important that the organisation has its own to help guide our policies, priorities and relationships.
“As the independent body responsible for standards-setting, complaints-handling and advocacy in relation to print and online media in Australia, and with a brief to apply its standards and carry out its activities in the public interest, the Press Council is firmly committed to embracing and reflecting the knowledge and experience of all Australians, especially Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island communities. For example, our recent groundbreaking guideline on the reporting of family violence benefited greatly from consultation with Indigenous people and organisations.”
In keeping with Reconciliation Australia’s suggested format for RAPs, the Press Council’s document focuses on relationships, respect and opportunities. The Council recognises that while its RAP needs to capture the right spirit, the most important thing is that it must ultimately achieve practical, beneficial outcomes.
Consequently, the Press Council commits itself to:
• encouraging membership by Indigenous newspapers, magazines and online news and current affairs sites;
• engaging and consulting with Indigenous groups, individuals and organisations regarding the Press Council’s work;
• promoting employment and internship opportunities for Indigenous people at the Press Council and among constituent members;
• promoting Indigenous cultural competence among staff;
• considering the impact on Indigenous peoples of current and proposed Standards of Practice;
• encouraging the Australian news media to report issues of importance for Indigenous communities in a respectful way, especially those that highlight inequality and the need to “close the gap”; and
• endeavouring to promote high quality reporting in relation to Indigenous peoples.
“Traditionally, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have had a very mixed relationship with media and that’s been underpinned by a paucity of trust, so it’s heartening to see an organisation like the Press Council take the lead on a Reconciliation Action Plan,” said Chris Graham, a Press Council member, the former Editor of the National Indigenous Times and the current Publisher/Editor of New Matilda.
“I think the Press Council’s RAP has a good mix of symbolic and practical goals, which is the key to a good one. I’m really proud to be associated with an organisation that takes its obligations to the nation’s most vulnerable people seriously," Graham said.
Complainant/The Queensland Times
The Press Council considered a complaint, about an article in The Queensland Times on 1 July 2015 (in print and online) containing an image of an accused person. While the image in print was only of the accused person, the image on the mobile platform and the Facebook version, headed “Goodna dad accused of drug, weapons and robbery offences”, included an image of two children.
The children were not the subject of the article and consent had not been obtained to publish their image.
The Council accepted the publication’s claim that a technical error in the digital publishing process had resulted in the article appearing on a mobile platform without the cropping seen in the online digital version. It acknowledged the publication’s admission of error, its apology and offer to the complainant to assist with having Facebook references removed. However, the Council noted the understandably significant impact on the family and the children, and the serious breach of their privacy. Accordingly, it upheld the complaint.
The Council also acknowledged the publication’s mention of a newly implemented policy of blurring or cropping images of children in its court-related image library. However, the Council noted the publication still cannot preview what it publishes to mobile. The Council emphasised the importance of appropriate checks and balances when using new technologies particularly when publishing images of children.
Michael Sutherland/The Sunday Times and Perth Now
The Press Council considered a complaint by Michael Sutherland MLA about an article on 14 June 2014 in Perth Now (online), “WA Parliament Speaker Michael Sutherland racks up $26,000 entertainment bill” and on the following day in The Sunday Times (print), “HEY BIG SPENDER: Speaker happy to charge taxpayers $500 a week for his dining bill – on top of his base salary of $246,000”.
In the Council’s view, the publication’s scrutiny of the Speaker’s personal expenses, salary and entitlements was a legitimate pursuit for the media and the contents of the article were reasonably fair and balanced.
However, the Council considered that the headline in the print article did not fairly reflect the content of the article’s examination of the spending within the office of the Speaker during Mr Sutherland’s tenure. In particular, the use of the terms “Hey Big Spender” and “his” when juxtaposed to the references to “dining bill” and “salary” implied the spending was of a personal nature and that the complainant’s office expenses and parliamentary allowances are of personal benefit in the same way as his salary when they are not. Accordingly, this aspect of the complaint was upheld.
The Council considered reporting that the complainant entertained “former colleagues from the City of Perth” was not unreasonable given the complainant’s history with that organisation. The Council also accepted that the publication’s offer to publish a 200 word letter from the complainant provided an adequate opportunity for him to respond to the matters raised in the article. Accordingly, these aspects of the complaint were not upheld.
PRESS COUNCIL TO AWARD PRESS FREEDOM MEDALS
The Australian Press Council will honour two courageous individuals by awarding them the Press Freedom Medal as part of the proceedings of its 40th Anniversary Conference in May 2016.
The award is to be given annually to dedicated men and women who through their work as journalists, legal practitioners, community activists or advocates of press freedom ensure that critically important issues are brought to public attention.
The names of the recipients of the 2016 Press Freedom Medal will be made public officially at an award ceremony at 10:15 a.m. on 5 May, which is the second day of the Press Council’s international conference.
“The inaugural award winners are absolutely outstanding journalists who overcame threats and major obstacles to ensure that critical stories saw the light of day," said the Press Council’s Chair, Professor David Weisbrot. “In future years, the Press Freedom Medal could just as easily be awarded to a judge who makes a crucial ruling that bolsters press freedom, or a community group, or individual activists who in their own way have contributed substantially to press freedom.”
“The theme of our conference is ‘Press Freedom in a Challenging Environment’, so it is entirely appropriate that this year we honour two people who have made such an important contribution through their reporting work.”
The two award winners for 2016 were selected by a special committee of Press Council members, taking into account the professional achievements over a number of years of a selection of journalists and other individuals. Particular articles or a series of articles that cast light on incidents or situations of major importance to the Australian community were also taken into consideration.
In the past, a Press Council Medal was awarded occasionally to a Council member for outstanding service to the organisation. At its quarterly meeting in February 2016, the Council decided to reinstate the practice of awarding medals, but instead for outstanding service to journalism and press freedom.
CFMEU / Herald Sun
The Press Council considered a complaint from the CFMEU about an online article in the Herald Sun on 27 August 2015 headed “Taskforce Heracles police raid CFMEU offices”, which reported that the CFMEU offices in Swanston Street Melbourne had been raided by police.
The Council considered the statement that police had conducted the raid was clearly inaccurate. The publication acknowledged it was not known whether its sources were “at the office” as reported. As such, the information may have been hearsay, requiring greater caution in its use. In addition, a subsequent tweet from the CFMEU’s Secretary made clear the raid had not occurred. In the absence of any confirmation from the CFMEU and police, this ought to have caused the publication to take further steps before publication. The Council concluded that reasonable steps to ensure accuracy were not taken, and upheld this aspect of the complaint.
The Council considered the publication’s swift, clear and prominent correction to be adequate remedial action, and did not uphold this aspect.
Complainant / news.com.au
The Press Council has considered whether its Standards of Practice were breached by an article published on news.com.au on 1 November 2015. The article was headed “Brutal torture of four women captured on camera" and the homepage item which linked to the article was headed “Sickening torture caught on camera”. An embedded video in the article was positioned near a map of Papua New Guinea, captioned “WARNING: The following video contains extremely disturbing images”. The article stated: “The footage shows at least four naked women tied up, burned and beaten while being prodded with hot wire and interrogated by a group of machete-wielding men".
The Council accepted the article was of significant public interest in raising awareness among readers of sorcery-related violence in a neighbouring country. It noted the article was prompted by the YouTube post which was reportedly “uploaded to YouTube by the Commission for Social Concerns, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Papua New Guinea”, and its attempts to highlight this serious matter.
The Council considered that some readers would have found the contents of the video distressing, however it acknowledged the publication’s steps to alert readers to the nature of the content in providing sufficient warnings on both the homepage item and the linked article. The Council considered the steps taken to avoid causing distress were reasonable and that any distress caused was sufficiently outweighed by the public interest. Accordingly, the Council concluded that the article did not breach its Standards of Practice.
The Australian Press Council has awarded its Press Freedom Medal to two courageous Australian journalists for their outstanding investigative work over a number of years and for their major contribution to a free and open society:
Kate McClymont of Fairfax Media (The Sydney Morning Herald)
Paul Maley of News Corp Australia (The Australian).
The Medals were awarded at a special ceremony as part of the Press Council’s 40th Anniversary Conference on Press Freedom in a Challenging Environment, currently underway in Sydney.
The Council has awarded three Press Council Medals in previous years, but the honour was reserved for people affiliated with the Council. The Council decided earlier this year to revitalise this award, and open it up to people who, through their work as journalists, legal practitioners, community activists or advocates of press freedom, help ensure the preservation of free speech, press freedom and open and transparent government.
“This year’s winners are exemplary journalists, who have the respect of their peers and the admiration of all Australians for their uncompromising investigative journalism, painstakingly uncovering and revealing uncomfortable truths, often at considerable risk to themselves and their families,” said Press Council Chair Prof David Weisbrot.
“The purpose of the Australian Press Council is to promote responsible journalism to inform the Australian public and support effective democratic institutions. We do this by setting high standards of practice for journalism, handling complaints from the public and advocating for free speech, press freedom and open government. It is entirely fitting that we honour two people who have made such important contributions, and exemplify everything that good journalism is about.”
Kate McClymont said: "I am both touched and honoured to be awarded the Press Freedom Medal. In accepting this prestigious award, I hope I can inspire the next generation of journalists to have the courage not to look the other way. For democracy to flourish, it is vital that our journalists continue to hold those in power to account."
Paul Maley said: “The Islamic State, like all tyrannies, relies on violence, intimidation and fear to govern. Journalists cannot defeat it, but we can rob it of the false prestige it uses to destroy young lives. We must continue to do this, despite whatever threats are thrown our way. I am profoundly honoured to receive the Press Freedom Medal which recognises the work of all journalists in this field.”
Read the award citations here.
Complainant / The Age
The Press Council has considered whether its Standards of Practice were breached by the publication of an online article in The Age on 6 January 2016, headed “Man drowns himself using murdered wife’s head: police", which reported an account by authorities of an apparent murder-suicide in Austria.
The Council noted that while publications must comply with its Standards – including the General Principles and Specific Standards on the Coverage of Suicide – the nature and circumstances of the material and the relevance to local audiences are matters to be taken into account in the application of these Standards.
In the Council’s view, the unusual nature of the crime gave weight to the public interest in the article’s contents. A warning to readers might have warranted consideration, though this was recognised as not always necessary. In these circumstances, the Council concluded that the article was not so substantially offensive as to breach General Principle 6.
The Council also considered there was no breach of Suicide Standards 3 or 5 – which concern whether to report individual instances, methods and locations of suicides – having regard to the article’s focus on the unusual nature of this particular apparent murder-suicide; that the information had been provided by authorities; and that the events described and location were outside Australia.
Anthony Wilson / The Moorabool News
The Council has considered a complaint by Anthony Wilson about an article in the Moorabool News on 24 March 2015, headed “Report to reveal if dog attack court costs were paid”. The article reported on a meeting of the Moorabool Shire Council at which councillors discussed legal action taken by the Shire Council against the complainant following a dog attack.
The Council concluded that the article was both misleading and unfair in saying the Shire Council was “forced by State Government legislation to spend $100,000” to deal with the matter when the legislation offered a number of alternative means for the Council to resolve it in a less expensive manner, but the Shire Council chose not to do so. The reporting was misleading and unfair in breach of General Principles 1 and 3 and the complaint was upheld in this respect.
The statements in the article that the costs had not been paid as ordered were reported as statements of fact rather than being attributed as a report of discussion during the Shire Council meeting. As there was no time frame in the court order for the Wilson family to pay costs, it was not reasonable to base the statement that the Wilson family did not pay costs as ordered on Shire Council’s 2013/14 report. The Press Council considered that the publication should have made additional enquiries prior to publication. Accordingly, the Council upheld this aspect of the complaint.
The Council was not able to determine whether adequate remedial action or an opportunity for a reply was made available in accordance with General Principles 2 and 4, and no finding was made in relation to these aspects.
Complainant / The Australian
The Press Council has considered whether its Standards of Practice were breached by two articles in The Australian, the first on 20 October 2015 headed “Rape refugee seeks new abortion location”, in print and online, and the second the following day headed “Refugee declines to report rape to police” in print with similar heading online. The articles concerned a Somalian refugee known by the pseudonym ‘Abyan’, detained by the Australian Government on Nauru, who claimed she had been raped and unsuccessfully sought to procure an abortion when taken to Australia.
The Council considered the matter was of significant public interest and that Abyan’s fraught situation was already on the public record. Although determining consent in the context of a person held in offshore detention is difficult, the material put to the Council suggested Abyan’s interview with the reporter was agreed to, as was the photo session. The report was also consistent in its use of the pseudonym applied throughout previous weeks’ coverage and the publication took steps not to include other identifying features. Accordingly, the Council found no breach of General Principles 5 or 7.
The Council also noted that publications ought take care to express crimes of sexual violence with a great degree of sensitivity for the victims and agreed with the publication that the headline was ‘inelegant’ and ‘blunt’. However, on balance, the Council considered the single use of the phrase “rape refugee”, not repeated in the following day’s headlines, did not amount to causing substantial offence, distress or prejudice. Accordingly, the articles were not in breach of General Principle 6.
NBN Co / Tully Times
The Press Council has considered a complaint by NBN Co about a front page article in the Tully Times on 29 October 2015, headed “No Brains Network”, and an article in the subsequent edition on 5 November, headed “NBN and country newspapers”.
The articles concerned the rollout of the NBN in the Tully region of the Cassowary Coast in Queensland, and contained criticism of the suggested likely costs and limited services of the NBN’s satellite services.
The Council considered that the publication should have sought comment from NBN Co’s media representative before the articles were published. Although the factual inaccuracies in the articles were not major ones, the lack of any alternate analysis being presented to readers rendered them misleading. The publication failed to take reasonable steps to ensure the articles were not misleading.
Further, the statement in the second article that there had been no comment from NBN Co, when one had not in fact been sought, was also misleading and lacking in balance. The Council considered that the publication failed to take reasonable steps to ensure the articles were presented in a manner that was not misleading and was fair and balanced as required by General Principles 1 and 3. Accordingly, this aspect of the complaint was upheld.
A publication is required to take reasonable steps to provide a correction or other adequate remedial action if published material is significantly inaccurate or misleading. The Council considered that, given NBN Co’s Corporate Affairs Manager is its spokesperson, the publication should have given her a fair and reasonable opportunity to reply, and failure to do so breached General Principles 2 and 4. Accordingly, this aspect of the complaint was also upheld.
Wade Laube / The Australian
The Press Council has considered a complaint by Wade Laube, on behalf of Senator Sean Edwards, about an article in The Australian on 13 March 2015, headed “Nukes never free, senator told” in print and a similar headline online. It followed an announcement by the Senator urging governments to investigate the importation and recycling of spent nuclear fuel.
The Council considered the publication failed to take reasonable steps to ensure accuracy and fairness and balance in reporting that Dr Stone had directly questioned the Senator’s proposal and that Dr Stone rejected a claim made by the Senator that energy could be free when in fact Dr Stone had not do so. The publication breached General Principles 1 and 3 of the Council’s Standards of Practice in this respect. Accordingly, these aspects of the complaint were upheld.
The Council considered reporting that the Senator claimed his “plan to use spent fuel rods to generate nuclear power would revive South Australia’s ailing economy within five years” and was “promising it would lead to free power and abolition of $4.4 billion in state taxes” was open to a range of reasonable interpretations. In addition, on the material available to the Council, it was unable to form a final view about communications between the complainant and the newspaper prior to publication. Accordingly, it was unable to determine whether or not reasonable steps were taken to ensure accuracy, fairness and balance in relation to this part of the reporting.
The Council considered reporting of the South Australian Labor Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis’s comments could reasonably be regarded as a political comment and were not given prominence. Accordingly, it found no breach of General Principle 3 in this respect.
The Council acknowledged the publication’s later clarification about the reporting of Dr Stone’s comments but considered it should have been published earlier. The Council concluded there had been a breach of General Principles 2 and 4 and also upheld this aspect of the complaint.