Australian Press Council

Complainant / The Sydney Morning Herald

The Press Council has considered whether its Standards of Practice were breached by an article in The Sydney Morning Herald on 22 February 2016 headed “The horrifying untold story of Louise” in print and with a similar headline online. It reported on the alleged rape of “Louise” by men she said were Arabic-speaking and described as “MERCs. Middle Eastern raping c----”, and said the NSW Police took no action.

The Council noted that the article concerned serious and distressing allegations that would likely cause substantial offence, distress and/or prejudice, and it was necessary to be especially rigorous in determining their veracity. All of them would have been readily dismissed with basic fact-checking, but this was not done. The Council concluded that reasonable steps were not taken to verify the report and to avoid substantial offence, distress and prejudice in breach of the Council’s Standards.

The Council’s Standards also require that reasonable steps be taken to publish a correction or take other adequate remedial action where material is significantly inaccurate or misleading. Given the subsequent publication of critical articles and letters and other steps taken, the Council did not consider there was a breach in this respect.

Read the full adjudication

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Complainant / The Daily Telegraph

The Press Council has considered whether its Standards of Practice were breached by an article headed “THE SILENCE OF THE DEAD” in The Daily Telegraph on 2 January 2016.

The article was spread across two pages. On the left hand page, a sub-headline “ROYAL COMMISSIONER DYSON HEYDON HAS EXPOSED THE MURKY WORLD OF UNION POWER IN A DAMNING REPORT ON CORRUPTION…” appeared next to a large image of Royal Commissioner the Hon John Dyson Heydon AC QC.
Below this were two quotes, apparently of findings, one of which said: “He was almost always unbelievable. He conveyed an impression of being a phony”. Set out opposite on the right hand page was a large screen shot image of Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten appearing as a witness at the Royal Commission including the words “Witness: Bill Shorten”.

The Council considered the publication failed to take reasonable steps to ensure the article was not misleading or unfair. Mr Shorten was exonerated by the Royal Commission. The Council considered the presentation of the article including the sub-headline, the large image of the Royal Commissioner and the screen shot of Mr Shorten giving evidence set out opposite each other and the presentation of the quotes all combined to convey a misleading and unfair impression that the quoted adverse findings referred to Mr Shorten. Accordingly, the Council considered that the publication breached General Principles 1 and 3.

In light of the nature of the breach and the lack of complaint by Mr Shorten himself, the Council did not make any finding of a breach of General Principles 2 and 4.

Read the full adjudication

Appointment of new Adjudication Panel Chairs

The Australian Press Council has appointed two new Chairs for its Adjudication Panels in order to increase diversity and broaden expertise in the organisation’s senior ranks.

Press Council members Julie Kinross, a barrister now working at the Queensland Department of Justice and Attorney-General, and Jennifer Elliott, the former Managing Director and Regional Head of Moody’s Asia Pacific, are the first women to be named to these important posts.

An Adjudication Panel is convened to determine complaints made to the Press Council that cannot be resolved through some other means; i.e. an apology, a letter to the editor or some other remedy deemed acceptable by both sides in a dispute over published material. The Panels, which may include four to six members with equal representation from among Council’s public members and industry members—publisher members do not take part in considering complaints—have usually been headed by the Council’s Chair, Professor David Weisbrot, or one of the two Council Vice-Chairs, Hon John Doyle AC and Julian Gardner AM.

The new appointments mean that Adjudication Panel proceedings may now also be headed by either Ms Kinross or Ms Elliot.

“In making these appointments, we were conscious of the need for greater gender and geographical diversity, as well as to recognise and develop the capabilities of our public members,” said Press Council Chair David Weisbrot AM. “It also provides the Council with much more flexibility in scheduling Adjudication Panels, spreading the workload more evenly, and providing for both continuity and succession planning.”

Julie Kinross said: “As women comprise a significant part of the news readership, it makes sense for the composition of the Adjudication Panels to reflect that readership. I thank the Press Council for the significant trust it has placed in me and look forward to serving the in my new role."

Jennifer Elliott said: “Given the rapid change in the media landscape today, it’s important that the Council continues to ensure its Adjudication Panels are well placed to respond by broadening expertise. I’m delighted to be a part of that process and look forward to making a significant contribution."

The Australian Press Council was established in 1976 and is responsible for promoting high standards of media practice, community access to information of public interest, and freedom of expression through the media. Press Council membership encompasses most of the major newspaper and magazine publishers in Australia, accounting for more than 900 mastheads (print and online) and about 95 per cent of circulation

Rami Yousif / The Sunday Telegraph

The Press Council considered a complaint by Rami Yousif about an article in The Sunday Telegraph on 22 November 2015 headed “BANNED: The 198 louts barred from every soccer game ground in the country”, which continued onto other pages and was also published online under a different headline. The complainant’s photograph (among others) appeared on the front page with a caption “10 years”, and again on page five with his name and the words “Wanderers supporter Ban: 10 years Spectator violence in a group”.

The complainant strongly denied he had been involved in anti-social conduct but the Council was not in a position to form an independent conclusion about this and the question was whether the publication took reasonable steps to determine the accuracy and fairness of the information in the article. The Council concluded that in the absence of any significant doubts about the veracity of the FFA dossier from which the publication had obtained the banned list, the publication was entitled to report its findings. Given the 10-year ban imposed on the complainant, normally reserved for serious anti-social behavior, the same logic can be applied to the publication’s use of the terms “louts” and “shame file”. Accordingly, the Council did not uphold the complaint in relation to General Principles 1 and 3.
In light of these conclusions and the publication’s offer of a right of reply, the Council considered there was no breach of General Principles 2 and 4.

The Council accepted that the publication obtained the photographs of the complainant from the FFA dossier. Given concerns about public safety, the Council concluded the complainant’s expectation of privacy was outweighed by the public interest in disclosure of the list of banned spectators and there was no breach of General Principle 5.
While the publicity may have caused the complainant considerable distress, the Council considered there was a significant public interest in disclosure of the list, and accordingly did not uphold the complaint in relation to General Principle 6.

Read the full adjudication

Complainant / The Courier-Mail

The Press Council considered whether its Standards of Practice were breached by an article in the print edition of The Courier-Mail on 26 March 2016 headed “’DADDY DID IT’: Eight-year-old star witness in murder trial, court told” and with a similar headline online. It reported the prosecution was considering calling a named boy as a key witness in his father’s murder trial and also identified the accused and the location of the alleged murder.

The Council accepted that no orders had been made suppressing the boy’s name, nor were there any other legal restrictions on identification. However, beyond the strict requirements of the law, publications have a further responsibility to ensure compliance with the Standards of Practice. The Council considered that given the boy’s age, the allegations against his father and that the boy might be called as a witness against his father, there was a reasonable expectation that the boy’s privacy should not be intruded upon by being named in the article. This was so even if his name had been used in open court. The Council concluded that reporting his name was not sufficiently in the public interest to outweigh this expectation of privacy and accordingly General Principle 5 was breached.

The Council also concluded the publication failed to take reasonable steps to avoid causing substantial offence, distress or prejudice or substantial risk to health or safety of the boy. Identifying him left him open to distress or worse at school, for instance. Publishing his name was not sufficiently in the public interest to justify risking such consequences and General Principle 6 was also breached.

Read the full adjudication

Chair’s statement on the disposition of complaints about cartoon in The Australian

The Australian published a cartoon by Bill Leak on 4 August 2016, apparently in response to the revelations about the horrific treatment of children in the Northern Territory’s Don Dale Correctional Centre. The cartoon portrayed an Aboriginal police officer holding a young man by his shirt collar, saying “You’ll have to sit down and talk to your son about personal responsibility” to an Aboriginal man holding a beer can, who replies “Yeah, righto – what’s his name then”.

This provoked extremely strong reactions in the general community and in the media, including condemnations of the cartoon and online petitions describing it as “disgraceful”, “insulting”, and “discriminatory”, among other things. A social media meme under the hashtag #IndigenousDads went viral, with Indigenous people sharing photos and stories about their families and the positive influence of their fathers on their lives.

The publication was also strongly defended by others, citing the overriding importance of free speech and freedom of the press. The Australian released a statement saying “Bill Leak’s confronting and insightful cartoons force people to examine the core issues in a way that sometimes reporting and analysis can fail to do”. Many journalists, media commentators and other political cartoonists expressed their considerable unease with the particular cartoon, yet ultimately concluded that, in the interests of free speech, it should not be formally censured.

The Australian Press Council—the body responsible for establishing Standards of Practice for print and online publications and for handling complaints in this area—received over 700 complaints about the cartoon, mainly from individuals but also from leading Indigenous groups and peak associations.

Under the Council’s Standards of Practice (General Principle 6), the key question is whether the publication “took reasonable steps” to “avoid causing or contributing materially to substantial offence, distress or prejudice, or a substantial risk to health or safety, unless doing so is sufficiently in the public interest”.

It is relatively straightforward for the Council to determine whether a publication has taken reasonable steps to ensure accuracy. It is much more fraught to determine whether an expression of opinion that has palpably caused offence to some members of the community is nevertheless sufficiently in the public interest.

The Press Council understands and actively champions the notion that freedom of speech and freedom of the press are the essential underpinnings of a liberal democracy, ensuring that citizens are able to hold powerful individuals and interests accountable, and to promote the contest of ideas that best enables sound policymaking, good government and a strong and open society.

In light of the powerful public interest in a free and vigorous press, great deference is given to expressions of political opinion. Longstanding tradition dictates that satire and cartooning should be afforded even greater latitude, which is why the “Je suis Charlie” campaign, which started after a terrorist attack in Paris killed a number of journalists and cartoonists, resonated so powerfully around the world.

When the Press Council receives a complaint, its processes are geared towards providing an appropriate remedy. This may involve a correction or an apology; the publication of a letter to the editor or an op-ed piece, or in a small proportion of cases a formal adjudication determining whether a publication has breached the Standards of Practice.

Balancing all of these considerations, and after consulting with key complainants, the Press Council considers that the best outcome in the public interest is to promote free speech and the contest of ideas through the publication of two major op-ed pieces in The Australian, providing Indigenous perspectives on the cartoon and shedding light on the underlying issues.

With the agreement by The Australian to publish these items prominently, we believe that the complaints have been effectively resolved through an appropriate remedy, and no further action will be taken by the Press Council.

We thank all of the complainants for their interest in maintaining media standards, and the editors of The Australian for their cooperative and constructive approach in this matter.

Professor David Weisbrot AM
Chair, Australian Press Council


Read the two op-ed items here

Complainant / news.com.au

The Press Council considered whether its Standards of Practice were breached by the publication of an article on news.com.au on 13 January 2016, headed “Record $US1.5 billion Powerball draw now open to Australian punters”.

The article reported on a betting company, Lottoland, “giving Australians the chance to enter the world’s biggest ever lottery, the whopping $US1.5 billion ($2.15 billion) Powerball jackpot”, and quoted a Lottoland representative: “It’s quite incredible now to think Australian citizens through Lottoland can join in on the race to win a mega international lottery without having to leave the comfort of their own lounge room or office.”

The Council’s Standards of Practice require publications to take reasonable steps to ensure factual material is accurate and not misleading (General Principle 1) and reasonably fair and balanced (General Principle 3). The Council considered the original article may have led readers to believe they could enter directly into the American lottery by dealing with Lottoland. Accordingly, the Council concluded that General Principles 1 and 3 were breached in this respect.

The Council’s Standards also require reasonable steps to arrange a correction or other adequate remedial action where published material is significantly inaccurate or misleading. The Council acknowledges the publication made amendments to the article (approximately a month later, after being alerted to the complaint) but would expect the publication to have become aware the original article was inaccurate or misleading when it published a related follow-up article on 19 January.

The Council considered that reasonable steps would require the publication to link the later article to the original article in order to alert readers to the corrected information. In addition, although the later article did give a prominent explanation of the differences between the local Lottoland and American lottery, the amended article did not appear on the publication’s homepage where it had originally been prominently published, so the subsequent amendments, including an Editor’s Note, were unlikely to have been brought to the attention of the original readers. Accordingly, the Council concluded that General Principles 2 and 4 were also breached.


Read the full adjudication

Margaret Masters / The Sunday Times and PerthNow

The Press Council has considered a complaint by Margaret Masters about two articles in The Sunday Times headed “Swan Homes hired killer” on 13 September 2015 and “Church calls cops over Swan Homes” on 20 September. The articles were also published online by PerthNow with different headlines. The articles reported on allegations by former child residents of the Swan Homes orphanage of abuse by a former house master, Leonard Darcey, and Mrs Master’s father, children’s home director Angus Peterkin.

The Council concluded that the articles reported the allegations of physical and sexual abuse by Mr Peterkin as a fact. However, a statement made by the Anglican Archdiocese was not a definitive finding that abuse had occurred. In the absence of a conviction or further proof, reasonable steps to ensure accuracy required that the allegations be qualified by use of a word such as “alleged”. In addition, the report in the first article that Mr Darcey was released from gaol early “after receiving favourable character evidence” from Mr Peterkin misleadingly suggested that the evidence led to his early release when it was in fact given before Mr Darcey was sentenced.

As a result, the publication failed to take reasonable steps to ensure the articles were accurate and not misleading, in breach of General Principle 1. Accordingly, these aspects of the complaint were upheld.

The Council accepted that the publication made attempts to contact Mr Peterkin’s family prior to the first article and that the family had elected not to contact it between the first and second articles. However, the publication did not publish correspondence received from other former residents after the first article which, contrary to the allegations, contained positive recollections. In doing so it failed to take reasonable steps to present the material with fairness and balance, in breach of General Principle 3. Accordingly, this aspect of the complaint was also upheld.

Council acknowledged the publication’s steps to subsequently correct the articles and its offer to publish other material and considered that it took reasonable steps to provide adequate remedial action and a reply. Accordingly, it complied with General Principles 2 and 4 and these aspects of the complaint were not upheld.

Read the full adjudication

Complainant / The Weekend Australian

The Press Council has considered whether its Standards of Practice were breached by an article in The Weekend Australian on 2-3 January 2016, headed “The minister, the texts and the Stormies night”. It reported allegations of inappropriate conduct against the then federal Minister for Cities, Jamie Briggs MP, in Hong Kong on official business, which led to Mr Briggs’ resignation from his Ministry. The allegations were made by a junior official employed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) in the Hong Kong consulate. The article detailed her age, position in DFAT and academic qualifications, that she was on her first posting overseas and the other meetings she attended that day.

The Council considered reporting on the conduct of the Minister was in the public interest as it involved a serious question of ministerial standards of behavior, but the identity of the woman was not a matter of public interest.
The Council accepted the publication intended in good faith to protect the privacy of the woman by withholding her name and pixilating her image. However, it did not consider sufficient steps were taken to protect the woman’s reasonable expectation of privacy.

The Council considered the question is not whether there was specific evidence that the woman’s identity could be discovered through an Internet search or that any particular person in fact identified the woman as a result of the article, but whether the publication took sufficient steps to minimise the risk that she would be identified by some means. It considered the information provided would quickly narrow the field, allowing friends, professional colleagues or others to identify the woman. The conduct of the Minister could have been reported without disclosure of so much personal information.

Accordingly, the Council concluded that General Principle 5 had been breached and upheld the complaint in this respect.

Read the full adjudication

Flogging off Australia’s corporate database cannot be justified

The Chair of the Australian Press Council has issued the following statement:

“Investigative journalism in Australia has suffered repeated blows in recent times, with overly broad anti-terrorism laws potentially ensnaring reporters covering security matters; a declining commitment to Freedom of Information; laws criminalising some forms of whistleblowing; metadata retention laws further discouraging public interest disclosures to journalists; and a worrying tendency to use the full force of the law to track down the source of merely embarrassing leaks.

As overzealous as some of these measures are, there is at least some argument about their ostensible value in enhancing public safety and security. However, the latest potential blow to investigative journalism defies any credible public interest justification: the planned sell-off of Australia’s corporate registers to a private monopoly operator.

These important databases are currently maintained by the Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC) and contain some ten million financial records from over two million corporations. These include corporate histories, business names, ownership structures and shareholders. This information is absolutely essential to ensuring open and transparent government, maintaining the integrity of free markets, and securing compliance with corporate, banking, taxation, competition, industrial and criminal laws.

It is squarely in the public interest for investigative journalists, civil society watchdog groups, academics and other researchers to have unimpeded access to the information in the ASIC registers. This level of scrutiny can expose serious malpractice, including fraud, corruption, tax evasion, money laundering, insider trading, human trafficking and supporting terrorist activities.

Government should be concerned that access to this critical information is already unduly restricted by costs, with ASIC imposing fees that are among the highest in the industrialised world—while our close counterparts in New Zealand and the United Kingdom provide such access for free. Privatisation would likely lead to even higher costs in future.

Selling off Australia’s corporate registers to a private monopoly would be a monumental error, leaving corporate accountability and the future of open and transparent government at the mercy of private interests.”

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Complainant/The Canberra Times

The Press Council considered a complaint about two articles published in The Canberra Times headed “Former cop sues for psychiatric injury caused by horror car crash” on 14 May 2015, and “Former cop in horror crash to be paid $1.225 million. But who will foot the bill?” on 31 August 2015.

The articles reported on legal proceedings before the ACT Supreme Court concerning a former police officer’s application for compensation for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. The application arose from the officer being a passenger in a police vehicle pursuing a stolen car and then rendering first aid to the victims of a high-speed collision which occurred following the pursuit.

The Council was sensitive to the distress that might be caused to a person suffering from mental health conditions such as PTSD and depression. However, the details of the former officer’s mental health condition were central to the Supreme Court’s considerations, no orders for suppression had been made, they were discussed in open court and repeated in the published decision of the Court which is publicly accessible on the Internet, and it was not directly brought the publication’s attention that the publication of the former officer’s name risked aggravating his mental health condition.

The Council did not consider that circumstances of the case or the earlier coronial and court orders gave the former officer a reasonable expectation that his name and mental health condition would not be published, or that the publication failed to take reasonable steps to avoid intruding on any reasonable expectation of privacy.

In addition, both General Principles 5 and 6 allow publication where it is sufficiently in the public interest. In this case, the Council considered there was a strong public interest in open justice, including the freedom of the press to explore matters of public importance, such as police pursuits and the effects of road accidents on victims and first responders. Accordingly, the complaint was not upheld.

Read the full adjudication

Complainant/news.com.au

The Press Council considered whether its Standards of Practice were breached by an article published on news.com.au on 10 May 2016 headed “Campaign for justice over death of Lynette Daley, left to bleed after ‘wild sex’”.
The article concerned the death of Lynette Daley in January 2011. It said that Ms Daley was found “naked, bruised and bloodied” on a northern NSW beach. An autopsy found Ms Daley “had suffered horrific internal and external injuries after a violent sex act”, and “[t]he two men who were with her both admitted to having sex with the woman, but claimed it was consensual”. The article also said “a coroner later found that, with an extremely high blood-alcohol reading, there was no way the woman would have been able to consent to the sex acts performed on her”.
The Council considered that the original article should be read independently, and that the words “wild sex” as used in the headline and the first paragraph were not attributed to the two men or their representatives. The Council considered that the heading and the first paragraph misleadingly and unfairly suggested Ms Daley had consented to sexual acts immediately before her death. Accordingly, the Council considered the material breached General Principles 1 and 3.
As the true situation was made clear when an Editor’s note was added and a URL link included in the article, the Council considered the publication took reasonable steps to take remedial action. Accordingly, it concluded that General Principle 2 was not breached.
The Council considered that the article is likely to have caused some offence, distress or prejudice but, as it was corrected quickly, the Council concluded the publication took reasonable steps to avoid causing substantial offence, distress or prejudice. Accordingly, the Council concluded that its General Principle 6 was not breached.
Read the full adjudication

Rita Timbery-Curtin/Southern Courier

The Press Council has considered a complaint by Rita Timbery-Curtin, great-granddaughter of La Perouse Aboriginal figure Emma Timbery, about two articles published on 16 February 2016 in the Southern Courier which on the cover, and in both the articles on page 11, the publication stated that Ms Timbery still remains in an unmarked grave 100 years after her death.
The Council considered the material was inaccurate in stating that Emma Timbery’s grave was unmarked. It considered the publication had sufficient time to conduct its own site inspection or otherwise check the accuracy of the assertion rather than relying on information from the Memorial Trust where the grave is located. The Council concluded that the publication failed to take reasonable steps to ensure its reporting was accurate, in breach of General Principles 1 and 3, and these aspects of the complaint were upheld.
The Council considered that the factual inaccuracy was not adequately addressed by the Editor’s Note; it was not headed “Correction” and lacked due prominence, and a published apology would have been appropriate. The later Correction included an apology, however the Council considered it was late and lacked due prominence. The Council concluded the publication failed to take reasonable steps to provide an adequate remedy, breach of General Principle 2, and this aspect of the complaint was upheld.
The Council considered the publication took reasonable steps after publication to provide an opportunity for the family to reply in accordance with General Principle 3. Accordingly, this aspect of the complaint was not upheld.
The Council also considered that given the nature, prominence and repetition of the error, the publication failed to take reasonable steps to avoid causing substantial offence and distress to the family and others in the community. The Council concluded the publication breached General Principle 6, and this aspect of the complaint was also upheld.
Read the full adjudication

John Stansfield/Newcastle Heraldstrong text

The Press Council considered a complaint about an article in the Newcastle Herald, headed “A Waratah family complains about unwanted visits from an ‘aggressive’ autistic group home resident” on 11 December 2015 online and “Who cares: The group home, the screaming resident, the neighbourhood nightmare” on 12 December 2015 in print. The article reported disturbances experienced by a “neighbour” of the group home in which the complainant’s grandson was resident and by a named family living “two blocks away”, who expressed concerns about the security and management of the group home.

The Council concluded that the publication took reasonable steps to ensure the article was not inaccurate or misleading and was fair and balanced. In addition, an accompanying editorial contextualised the article, using the personal experience of the named family to shed light on the wider debate on local disability services. The Council concluded there was no failure to take reasonable steps to ensure accuracy, fairness or balance. Accordingly, there was no breach of General Principles 1 and 3.

The Council acknowledged a degree of intrusion into the group home resident’s privacy, but this was outweighed by the significant public interest in vulnerable people in care. It also considered the apparent public nature of the reported behaviour reduced the reasonable expectation of privacy under General Principle 5. Accordingly, this aspect of the complaint was not upheld.

The Council appreciated that the reporting resulted in a degree of offence and distress for family members and friends. However, the Council also recognised the reported behaviour was essential and presented it in the context of the wider community debate on disability services. The publication had taken reasonable steps to sufficiently balance any likely offence with the overall public interest as required by General Principle 6. Accordingly, this aspect of the complaint was not upheld.

Read the full adjudication

Press Council endorses latest call for Facebook to respect press freedom

The Australian Press Council welcomes the strong action taken by the Association of Independent Press Councils of Europe (AIPCE) in denouncing Facebook’s arbitrary censorship of journalistic content and calling on the social media giant to commit itself formally to respect for freedom of the press.

The AIPCE – of which the Australian Press Council is an associate member – delivered a letter to Facebook’s Director of Media Partnerships on 1 November 2016 in Oslo, outlining the organisation’s concerns about Facebook’s growing power to control the flow of information and block access to important news content.

Those concerns grew after Facebook censored the iconic 1960s picture of a young Vietnamese girl, suffering burns to much of her body, running from her napalmed village. That picture accompanied an article published in the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten in September. The paper’s editor attracted international attention when he wrote an open letter of protest to Facebook.

The interference by Facebook in press freedom was the subject of intense discussion at AIPCE’s annual conference in October in Stockholm, with delegates unanimous in condemning Facebook for frequently acting as a censor of text and images, while at the same time insisting that it is not actually a ‘publisher’ but merely a technology platform.

Australian Press Council Chair David Weisbrot said: “The Councils’ Executive Director, John Pender, and I were fortunate to be able to participate in this discussion. I spoke critically about Facebook applying crude once-size-fits-all policies without any thought or discretion, and taking no account of whether an article was already subject to ethical scrutiny by a press council or was covering a matter of public interest. We were among others in highlighting specific examples of improper censorship by Facebook. Delegates authorised the AIPCE’s Coordinating Committee to write to Facebook calling on the company to open a dialogue with world press councils and to develop a transparent editorial policy that respects press freedom and freedom of speech.”

The AIPCE’s letter stated that Facebook had violated freedom of the press by censoring journalistic content “that is already subject to a system of press ethics”, and called on Facebook to “commit itself to respecting the freedom of the press and ensure and formally guarantee that this will not happen in future”. The letter also noted: “When the providers of social media intervene against journalism they risk to damage the credibility of journalism. ‘Has the newspaper really told me everything I know? Or has Facebook taken any information away?’ Questions like these offer a threat both to journalism and the credibility of the social platform.”

This letter follows upon Prof Weisbrot’s strongly-worded media statement in September, noting both Facebook’s attempt to censor the ‘Vietnam girl’ photo as well as one portraying Indigenous women elders in traditional ceremonial dress published in the New Matilda. He argued at the time that these incidents underscored the urgent need for Facebook to “address the clumsy and ineffective way in which its moderators and computer algorithms make crucial editorial decisions on behalf of Facebook’s users”.

Read the full text of the AIPCE letter to Facebook here. Read the Press Council’s September media release here.

Complainant/The Australian

The Press Council has considered whether its Standards of Practice were breached by the publication of a Cartoon captioned “AID À LA MODE” in The Australian on 14 December 2015. The cartoon depicted a number of people in traditional Indian clothing, one with a hammer smashing a box bearing United Nations logos and labelled “SOLAR PANELS”, another throwing away a fragment of broken panel saying “IT’S NO GOOD, YOU CAN’T EAT THEM” and another saying “HANG ON, LET ME TRY ONE WITH A BIT OF MANGO CHUTNEY”.

The Council noted that cartoons are commonly expressions of opinion examining serious issues and which use exaggeration and absurdity to make their point. For this reason, significant latitude will usually be given in considering whether they breach Council’s Standards of Practice.

However, a publication can still fail to take reasonable steps to avoid contributing to substantial offence, distress or prejudice in publishing a particular cartoon and in that way can breach the Council’s General Principle 6.

The Council considered that the cartoon is an example of drawing on exaggeration and absurdity to make its point. While some readers may have found the cartoon offensive, the Council did not consider that the publication failed to take reasonable steps to avoid causing substantial offence, distress or prejudice. Accordingly, the Council concludes that its Standards of Practice were not breached.

Read the full adjudication

Lost Dogs’ Home/The Age

The Press Council has considered a complaint by the Lost Dogs’ Home about an article in The Age on 28 November 2015 headed “It’s concrete pens and barking dogs”.

The Council concluded that, as the article inferred that a dog “Dino” was euthanised for no valid reason, it was inaccurate and unfair not to include reference to Dino’s aggression and pancreatitis. As to the six other dogs referred to, the article covered their general treatment and it would have been reasonable for the publication to seek their medical histories and include material from them to provide a fair and balanced report. The voice-over in the embedded video unfairly implied hundreds of dogs were fed sedatives and antidepressants and it would have been reasonable for the publication to seek a response to these claims from the Home for inclusion in the article. Consequently, the Council considered the article breached General Principles 1 and 3, and the complaint was upheld in these respects.

The Council doubted whether allowing the Home only two days to respond before publication provided a reasonable time, but reached no conclusion in this respect.

The Council also considered it may have been unfair to make and use a recording of one of the Home’s staff without consent, but there was a sufficient public interest to justify doing so. As to a potential conflict of interest of one of the sources for the article, the Council considered the publication took sufficient steps to draw readers’ attention to this issue. Accordingly, the Council did not uphold these aspects of the complaint.

Finally, the Council considered Home’s letter to the Editor as published included the major elements to which the complainant sought to respond and was published within a reasonable time, and this aspect was not upheld.

Read the full adjudication

Complainant/The Daily Telegraph

The Press Council has considered whether its Standards of Practice were breached by the publication of a blog by The Daily Telegraph online on 10 April 2016 headed “TAX-FUNDED SPOUSAL ASSAULT COMMUNITY”. The blog commented on a claim by the ABC staff union for “Family Violence Leave” and said it was made because “the ABC employs so many victims of domestic violence that they require their own special leave allowance category” and “Home is the last place [ABC staff] need to be. That’s where the violence happens.”

The Council concluded that in the overall context of the blog, its style and its readership, the publication took reasonable steps to ensure factual material was accurate, fair and balanced and opinions were not based on significantly inaccurate material or omission of key facts. Accordingly, General Principles 1 and 3 were not breached.

Although the publication may not have intended to diminish the seriousness of domestic violence, there was a significant risk some readers might draw this conclusion. On balance however, the Council concluded that the level of offence must be considered in the overall context of the blog. The Council concluded that the publication took reasonable steps to avoid substantial offence, distress or prejudice, and General Principle 6 was not breached.

Read the full adjudication

Complainant/The Sun-Herald

The Press Council has considered whether its Standards of Practice were breached by an article headed “The Secret Life of Gary Low” in The Sun-Herald and online on 24 January 2016. The article reported on the life and death of a man apparently living under the assumed name of Gary Low who it said lived in extreme privacy and scrupulously avoided his most basic details being recorded by governments or businesses. It reported Mr Low’s health declined very rapidly in 2014 due to HIV, “which had gone untreated for as long as a decade and had advanced to AIDS”, that Mr Low died three weeks after admission to hospital in June 2014, a coronial inquest was conducted and his body remained unclaimed at the morgue.

The Council considered there was no reasonable expectation of privacy in this instance, particularly because (a) Mr Low is deceased; (b) the facts were stated in open court and recorded in official and accessible court reports; and © no suppression or redaction order was sought by the relevant hospital and health authorities or made by the Court. Further, had the publication failed to take reasonable steps to avoid intruding on privacy, the reporting was sufficiently in the public interest to outweigh such an intrusion, given the significance and public policy implications of the story. Accordingly, the Council concluded that General Principle 5 was not breached.

Similarly, the Council considered that the publication took reasonable steps to ensure the article did not cause or contribute materially to substantial offence, distress or prejudice, or to a substantial risk to health or safety. The article was sensitively written and sympathetic to Mr Low, did not use any stigmatising or discriminatory language, and is considered unlikely to dissuade anyone from seeking medical advice in appropriate circumstances. Accordingly, General Principle 6 was not breached.

Read the full adjudication

Press Council welcomes another new member publication

Australia’s only national newspaper aimed at children has joined the Press Council as a member. This adds another masthead to the list of more than 900 print and online media outlets that have committed themselves to the Press Council’s high standards of ethical journalism and its mission to advocate for press freedom.

Crinkling News was launched in April 2016. With a small team, including a consultant child psychologist, Crinkling produces a 16-page publication each week and also an online edition. It has a readership of around 20,000 and a full-time equivalent staff of seven.

Crinkling’s website states that it “is produced by experienced, professional journalists, but we tell the news in child-friendly way”.

"We are delighted to be joining the Australian Press Council,” said Crinkling’s Publisher and Founding Editor Saffron Howden. “Being open to scrutiny and giving news consumers a right of redress should they need it is an important part of good journalism in a democracy.

“For our young readers in particular, I want them to grow up knowing the press has standards of practice and that they can hold us to them."

Ms Howden spent more than 15 years working as a news journalist at Australian Associated Press, the Daily Telegraph, and The Sydney Morning Herald.

The Chair of the Press Council, Professor David Weisbrot, said all print and online outlets, no matter what their readership or size, can benefit from membership.

“We are slowly but surely expanding Press Council membership into new areas,” Professor Weisbrot said. “Crinkling News is our first children’s publication. We recently had our first multicultural publication join and we hope to sign on some leading Indigenous newspapers very soon.

“The fact that new members from a wide variety of areas are deciding to join the Press Council is a clear indication that our message is getting through: increased diversity of membership provides a richer range of experience and perspectives, strengthening our standards of practice and our processes.”

The Australian Press Council was established in 1976 and is responsible for promoting good standards of media practice, community access to information of public interest, and freedom of expression through the media. Press Council membership encompasses most of the major newspaper, magazine and online publishers in Australia, accounting for approximately 95 per cent of circulation.

Michelle Goldsmith/Bendigo Weekly

The Press Council has considered a complaint by a candidate for Bendigo in the Victorian local government elections, about publication of her letter to the editor in the Bendigo Weekly on 10 June 2016. The letter was headed “THE POWER OF VOTING” and argued the benefits of compulsory voting. Although it did not refer to any election or any matter that could influence the way a vote might be cast by a voter, it was published with her name, residential address and the ward for which she was a candidate.

The Council considered it likely on the information available to it that an editorial policy put in place by the publication from 10 June – to publish the full names and addresses of contributors’ letters to the editor making election-related comment – or its implementation in this case, was not required by law. However, the Council is unable to conclude whether the publication failed to take reasonable steps to avoid intruding on reasonable expectations of privacy or contributing to substantial distress or prejudice, or a substantial risk to health or safety in these respects.

However, the Council considered that the publication could have contacted the complainant prior to publishing the letter and advised her of the new policy in relation to the publication of letters. It also could have advised that it proposed to publish the letter with her address and given her an opportunity to withdraw the letter or seek a different outcome. The Council concluded that the publication failed to take reasonable steps to avoid intruding on a person’s reasonable expectations of privacy or contributing to substantial offence, distress or prejudice, or a substantial risk to health or safety in this respect. Any public interest in the complainant’s address was not sufficient to justify the intrusion and the risk and General Principles 5 and 6 were breached. Accordingly, the complaint was upheld.

Read the full adjudication

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