Press Coun­cil ad­ju­di­ca­tion

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - NEWS -

THE Press Coun­cil has con­sid­ered a com­plaint from Fred Thorpe about an ar­ti­cle in The Sun­day Tele­graph on 26 Fe­bru­ary 2017, headed “Sack ABC board and end the warped bias” in print and on­line.

The ar­ti­cle re­ferred to the opin­ion writer’s ap­pear­ance as a panel mem­ber on the ABC’s Q&A pro­gram and, among other mat­ters, com­mented on a ques­tion posed by the com­plainant to the At­tor­neyGen­eral, Ge­orge Bran­dis, about an im­pend­ing re­view of her pen­sion en­ti­tle­ment. The Coun­cil con­sid­ered the ar­ti­cle’s ref­er­ences to the com­plainant’s su­per­an­nu­a­tion, her ap­pear­ance on the TV pro­gram Back­yard Blitz, her hav­ing “found the stamina to ag­gres­sively cam­paign” for a po­lit­i­cal can­di­date “de­spite her dis­abil­ity”, and that she “surely has noth­ing to worry about”, col­lec­tively im­plied she is an un­de­serv­ing wel­fare re­cip­i­ent.

The ref­er­ences to her su­per­an­nu­a­tion, po­lit­i­cal al­le­giances, and the ex­tent of her cam­paign­ing were based upon spec­u­la­tion and a small se­lec­tion of com­ments made by the com­plainant on so­cial me­dia.

The pub­li­ca­tion failed to en­sure fac­tual ma­te­rial was pre­sented with rea­son­able fair­ness and bal­ance, es­pe­cially given the com­plainant is not a pub­lic fig­ure but sim­ply a mem­ber of the pub­lic.

Ac­cord­ingly, the pub­li­ca­tion breached Gen­eral Prin­ci­ple 3.

Given the com­plainant ap­peared on Q&A and com­mented on her per­sonal cir­cum­stances, her rea­son­able ex­pec­ta­tion to pri­vacy was di­min­ished as it re­lated to such com­men­tary.

Ac­cord­ingly, the pub­li­ca­tion did not breach Gen­eral Prin­ci­ple 5 or Pri­vacy Prin­ci­ple 7.

The Coun­cil con­sid­ered that while it is le­git­i­mate jour­nal­is­tic prac­tice to pro­vide back­ground to scru­ti­nise peo­ple in­volved in pub­lic de­bate, the ar­ti­cle caused the com­plainant and her fam­ily con­sid­er­able dis­tress. The com­plainant merely asked a ques­tion, al­beit on live tele­vi­sion, and could not be rea­son­ably de­scribed as ei­ther be­ing a pub­lic fig­ure or in­volved in the broader de­bate about the gov­ern­ment’s data­match­ing pro­gram.

There was no pub­lic in­ter­est in scru­ti­n­is­ing the com­plainant’s back­ground to the ex­tent the pub­li­ca­tion did, and there is a strong coun­ter­vail­ing pub­lic in­ter­est in en­sur­ing the pub­lic is free to par­tic­i­pate in pub­lic de­bate with­out un­war­ranted scru­tiny.

Given this, the Coun­cil con­cluded that the pub­li­ca­tion failed to take rea­son­able steps to avoid con­tribut­ing ma­te­ri­ally to sub­stan­tial dis­tress, which was not suf­fi­ciently in the pub­lic in­ter­est. Ac­cord­ingly, the pub­li­ca­tion breached Gen­eral Prin­ci­ple 6.

FULL AD­JU­DI­CA­TION, SEE: HTTP://WWW.PRESS­COUN­CIL.ORG.AU/DOC­U­MENT-SEARCH/ADJ-1721.

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