When Tim Palmer took on Piers Akerman in the Australian Press Council last year, the legendary ABC foreign correspondent represented himself and faced both the controversial columnist and The Daily Telegraph’s executive editor Roger Coombs.

Palmer recorded an emphatic win, which might partly explain the paper’s decision not to attend this morning’s hearing over my complaint about an Akerman column last December alleging that Crikey is run by people “claiming to be journalists”.

Sure, some papers choose not to actually attend Press Council hearings, instead preferring to rely on the written complaint file, but the failure to show this morning speaks volumes about the News Ltd culture and the weakness of their case. It’s a no contest, your honour.

The hearing kicked off at 11.35am we had a good debate with the seven member voting panel and two executive offices until 12.20pm. I made the following points:

  • Crikey has never refused to publish a letter from someone at News Ltd
  • Refusing to correct or engage is part of the News Corp culture – in 22 public company board tilts, only News Corporation completely censored my platform, refusing to even tell shareholders my age
  • Sure, the comment defence gives some latitude to columnists expressing opinions, but this Piers opinion is demonstrably wrong.

The written Daily Telegraph response to the initial complaint included the odd argument that journalism wasn’t like dentistry where you received a formal qualification. If you accept that, surely working in a profession for 16 years is proof enough that you are a journalist.

Roger Coombs also tried to argue that Crikey regularly publishes material by non-journalists. Even if you accept that, the only mentions of sedition – the subject of the Akerman column – in the month leading up to its publication were by Christian Kerr, Hugo Kelly, Stephen Feneley and Charles Richardson, all of whom have either worked for many years in the mainstream media or been published several times in News Ltd titles.

The Daily Telegraph will have to publish the adjudication no matter whether the complaint is upheld or not. Surely, it would have been simpler to just run my brief letter online as part of a mediated settlement. Sometimes giving an inch can produce a better outcome, but it’s just not part of the News Corp culture.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey