Press Council adjudication
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.