The Herald Sun has been brought to account for its misleading, damaging and poisonous editorial attack on the Australian Greens.

Last
Friday the Australian Press Council upheld the Greens complaint that
the widely syndicated Murdoch news story, ‘Greens Back Illegal Drugs’
was, in the words of the Press Council, “seriously inaccurate”, had
“misled” readers and was “irresponsible journalism”.

In late
August 2004, some five weeks before the election, John Howard came out
on talkback radio describing the Greens as ‘kooky’. John Anderson soon
followed up Howard’s rhetoric, coining the phrase ‘watermelons’ to
describe the Greens — green on the outside but deep red in the middle.
Howard and Anderson were well within their rights to try to give the
Greens a bad name within the bounds of sarcasm. That’s the game of
political double-speech and semantics.

However, just days
later on 31 August, the Herald Sun Canberra bureau generated a story
headed ‘Greens back Illegal Drugs’, by Gerard McManus, including a
sidebar headed ‘What They Stand For’. Only problem was, the things that
McManus claimed the Greens stood for bore little or no relation to
actual Greens policies. “The Council views this article as
irresponsible journalism. In the article a number of false claims were
made about Greens Party policies. Given the sweeping and unqualified
nature of the claims, the newspaper ought to have checked the veracity
and currency of the policy claims,” the Press Council commented.

“In
the context of an approaching election, the potential damage was
considerable. The actual electoral impact cannot be known but readers
were seriously misled”.

It’s one thing for a newspaper to
express a heady opinion via the opinion page or editorial column – all
power to them to do so – but when newspapers start concocting party
policies in the weeks before a federal election, and present that as
high profile news, then the very important principals of fairness, balance and objectivity in the media are directly undermined.

By
all indications, the Herald Sun succeeded in seriously damaging the
Green vote at the 2004 Federal election. It is a shame the only way it
was able to do so was by lying to their readers.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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