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Dec 10, 2012

Press Council breaches: Herald Sun worst culprit in '12

Who are the worst offenders when it comes to biased, inaccurate or unfair reporting? Crikey has trawled through this year's Australian Press Council rulings to find out.


Melbourne’s Herald Sun has breached press standards more often than any other newspaper this year, an analysis of rulings by the Australian Press Council shows.

The press council has handed down five adverse judgements against the Melbourne tabloid in 2012 compared to three for News Limited stablemates The Advertiser in Adelaide and The Daily/Sunday Telegraph in Sydney.

The Hun, the country’s top-selling weekday paper, was most recently pinged for its coverage of Craig Thomson’s speech to Parliament in May about allegations he spent union funds on pr-stitutes. The paper ran a photo-shopped picture of Thomson with a Pinocchio-like nose on its front page followed by four, mostly critical, pages of news coverage.

While the APC had no problem with the Hun polling its readers and publishing the results, it concluded the overall coverage was unfair to the Dobell MP given the likelihood that criminal charges would be laid over the scandal.

The paper was also found guilty of biased and inaccurate reporting on the City of Casey, which it named “Victoria’s most dysfunctional council”. The APC found the paper made significant errors — such as claiming the council had the highest rate increase in the state — and inappropriately blurred fact and opinion in its news reports. One negative finding against the Hun was indisputably minor: not providing a link to an article giving an alternate perspective to a controversial piece by Margaret Court about homos-xuality being a “choice”.

The vexed and emotive issue of asylum seekers continues to trip up journalists and editors, despite repeated warnings from the Press Council about lowering the temperature. This year, the APC found a Herald Sun news story claiming asylum seekers would “flood the suburbs” was inaccurate and unfair; The Advertiser was reprimanded for labeling asylum seekers “illegal immigrants”.  The Daily Telegraph was scolded for using phrases such as “invade”, “dumped”, “deluge” and “open the floodgates” in its asylum seeker coverage.

The Tele was also whacked for failing to separate fact from opinion in its reporting on Sydney lord mayor Clover Moore, which included headlines such as “Clover Moore wanted feedback on her bike paths disaster — we can tell her now: TEAR THEM UP” and the use of phrases such as “crazy council policies”, “junket” and “diva-like list of demands” in news stories.

The Gold Coast Bulletin was given a clip for incorrectly claiming on its front page that a downgrading of the Gold Coast Council’s credit rating would lead to an increase in loan costs.

The Australian was found guilty of two breaches. The first was for not giving enough prominence to a correction about inaccurate reporting on former solicitor-general Stephen Gageler. More controversially, veteran Weekend Oz columnist Phillip Adams was upbraided for calling League Of Rights founder Eric Butler a “traitor” without including other relevant details.

Fairfax publications didn’t completely escape the watchdog’s wrath. The Age was reprimanded for unfair coverage of attendance figures at the Formula One Grand Prix, while The Sydney Morning Herald was pinged for a misleading headline on its website about News Limited columnist Andrew Bolt posting a link on his blog to a site containing racist material.

Spurred on by cajoling from APC chairman Julian Disney and the threat of greater media regulation, newspaper editors are no longer burying negative press council rulings like they used to. The Herald Sun, for example, ran a prominent page-three pointer to the adjudication on its Thomson coverage; the Tele ran the ruling on its asylum seeker coverage on page six.


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