If you think a newspaper, magazine or website (including Crikey) has been inaccurate, biased or unfair in its reporting on the findings of the Finkelstein inquiry or Convergence Review don’t bother going to the Australian Press Council with a complaint. The watchdog won’t touch it.
That’s what Alan Corbett, a former NSW politician, learned when he complained to the APC about an article in The Australian last month. Corbett took umbrage at the lede of the article: “News Limited chief executive Kim Williams will challenge the Gillard government’s proposed media reforms in the High Court if they are introduced, declaring them unconstitutional and a threat to democracy.”
After his letter to the editor was not published, Corbett, who runs the Journalist Complaints website, took the matter to the APC.
“That is not fair or accurate reporting,” he wrote. “The recommendations of any inquiry or review cannot be accurately and fairly stated as belonging to the government of the day, simply because the government established the inquiry or review in the first place.”
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The government, as Corbett wrote, has yet to outline its official response to either of the media reviews.
Paul Nangle, the APC’s head of complaints, responded: “We understand your concern at the obvious inaccuracy of the references to the ‘government’s proposed media reforms’ and ‘The government’s proposals’. We are unable however, to consider the matter sufficiently to make an adjudication.
“The Council has decided that it should not adjudicate on complaints relating to the Finkelstein and Convergence Review’s reports because of its possible conflict of interest.”
This left Corbett with nowhere to go. He couldn’t complain to the MEAA because at least one of the authors of the article was not a union member.
Press Council boss Julian Disney tells Crikey the Council could, hypothetically, address a complaint about the issues flowing from Finkelstein or Convergence if it is “clearly a matter of indisputable fact”.
But as a general rule they’re out of bounds because both reviews deal extensively with the future of the Press Council. Disney says he has received other queries from potential complainants, but they decided not to proceed when he advised them of the APC’s stance. Disney can’t say when this stance, which he first outlined at a university forum earlier this year, will change.
Corbett remains unimpressed: “I think they should put it to one side, explain the difficulties they have and say our job is to keep an eye on the print media.”