The Australian’s media commentator Mark Day has a shot at Crikey in his column today. Now I quite like Mark Day. He can be a bit of a fossil, but his media commentary is almost always well informed and often astute.  He also has that laid back “it’s all bread and circuses” air that washes well in mainstream media. In this case, though, he must have been stuck for a topic. He is writing about stale news, and as for his logic – well, readers can judge.

Crikey, he says, is a “pest” on the same scale as radio shock jock Kyle Sandilands. The reason is that editor Jonathan Green and I had the temerity to complain to the Press Council about the publication of the supposed Pauline Hanson photographs by News Limited tabloids  last March.

Now, I am grateful to Day. As followers of this blog (how are you both?) will know, I have been largely absent for the last six months, while finishing a book (details here, out next March).

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As my co-author and I laboured to meet the publisher’s deadline, I had been feeling guilty for not keeping readers up with the latest on Crikey’s Press Council complaint. The complaint, lodged last March, was reported on at length at the time, and the text of the complaint was reproduced on this blog.

Day seems to have missed all that. He writes as though the news is fresh, and that Crikey’s pestishness has been all in the last week. Thank you Mark. You have given me the hook I need to bring readers up to date with what is now old news.

But first, Day’s column. There are a few logical leaps, with the main one being to equate a complaint to an industry self regulation body with the behaviour of Sandilands in humiliating ordinary people on air.

Leaving that aside, Day’s main charge against Crikey is hypocrisy. The argument? Day points out that Crikey’s founder, Stephen Mayne, was often inaccurate. Mayne himself might describe this as fair cop. Day also says that Mayne had an engaging Quixotic quality.

But the modern day Crikey? Day’s main complaints are that we are boring, that we criticise News Limited too much (ask Fairfax about that) and that we maintian “a constant Crikey commentary on the imminent death of newspapers and the dazzling future of the web.” What a sin.

Even if you agree with him on these charges, why this makes it hypocritical for us to lodge a complaint against News Limited publications is not quite clear.  I don’t follow the logic. And some would see little ‘ol us taking on the might of News Limited as an example of exactly the kind of scampishness that Day seems to have grudgingly admired in the early Crikey.

The whole point of our complaint, by the way, was the privacy issue. The complaint was lodged before it was clear that the supposed Hanson photos were not Hanson at all. We argued that even if they were Hanson, no editor should have published them, because of the breach of privacy involved.

There was no allegation of illegality or hypocrisy involved. The photos were supposed to have been taken before Hanson entered public life, and in the privacy of a hotel room. What on earth possessed News Limited editors to regard themselves as entitled to publish such material? That was the nub of our complaint – privacy, not factual accuracy.

Anyway, to bring readers up to date, early in August I got a letter from the Executive Secretary of the Press Council, Jack Herman, saying that he did not intend  “processing the matter further as a complaint”.

The reasons were that the newspapers concerned had admitted error and apologised, and that ours was a “third party complaint”, which the Council does not normally accept when pursing the matter is likely to  “lead to the further invasion of the privacy of those reported on.”

I guess that is all fair enough by the letter of the Press Council procedures, and I am not going to whinge about it too much, other than to point out that while News Limited editors have admitted they were wrong to publish the Hanson photos, the error they have admitted is getting the identity wrong. They have said nothing about privacy. Indeed, they have continued to suggest that if the photos had been Hanson, it would have been just tickety boo to publish them.

Herman’s letter also told me that the Chairmanof the Press Council, Professor Ken McKinnon, intended to address the matter in the Press Council’s Annual Report.

This morning Herman told me that the draft of this report is presently with the Council, and should go to the printer within weeks.

I await it with interest.

In the meantime, I am b-a-a-ack writing for Crikey on media. All tips appreciated. Send to [email protected]

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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