Yesterday we bagged the blatant Murdoch propaganda of The Australian’s
Media section, yet today we only have bouquets for the paper’s brave
campaigning on Australia’s judicial system.

The saga began last summer when the paper ran a series of stories
highlighting how the NSW court system shut down for six weeks over the
silly season. NSW Attorney General Bob Debus made a detailed complaint
to the
Australian Press Council, even though The Australian was at some levels just looking at the
efficiency of our courts and whether taxpayers were getting value for
money from the judicial system. It was a rare and brave exercise because judges are often considered above media scrutiny.

The Press Council has largely backed the paper, but given them a
couple of slaps with their damp lettuce leaf along the way. Check out
what The Australian carried of the Press Council’s adjudication here. The full version is here.

The Debus complaint was a real omnibus effort that spanned everything from
claiming The Australian was unfairly denigrating the courts to the
usual Press Council fodder of accuracy and fairness. The paper went down
on three counts as follows:

The Council upholds the Attorney’s complaint on three issues: the newspaper
did not take sufficient steps to check the accuracy of claims by a quoted
criminal lawyer; there was a lack of fairness and balance in its treatment of
material arising from a Productivity Commission report; and an article misled
readers on the basis on which comparative costs between NSW and Queensland
courts were assessed.

However, the media usually gets the last word in these exercises and The Australian has certainly fired some shots back today as you can see here.
While welcoming the Press Council’s support of judicial scrutiny, the
paper also quibbled on the three points it went down over as “at least
arguable or minor in the overall scheme of things.”

Regardless of the detail, our media should be able to critically
scrutinise the judicial system and we should all take succour from the
Press Council’s support of this principle after The Australian’s brave campaign.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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