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Sep 18, 2013

‘Flawed and illogical’: Age ed blasts Press Council cardigan-wearers

The Australian Press Council found The Age breached reporting guidelines in its reporting on a union scandal. But editor-at-large Mark Baker is not taking the verdict lying down.

Matthew Knott

Former Crikey media reporter


The Age‘s editor-at-large, Mark Baker, has rejected an adverse Australian Press Council ruling on his reporting on the Australian Workers Union slush fund affair as “flawed and illogical”.

In an adjudication published in Fairfax newspapers yesterday, the Press Council found Baker erred by not contacting Slater & Gordon for comment on serious allegations.

Baker maintains the public interest in publishing the story — a “deeply embarrassing” one for then-prime minister Julia Gillard — meant he did not need to ask Slater & Gordon for comment on claims it was stalling on requests to release files.

“The Slater & Gordon complaint was vigorously rejected by The Age and this finding is flawed and illogical — like so much of the work of the Press Council,” Baker told Crikey. “While the Council prohibits reporting of its meandering deliberations, suffice to say it has taken almost a year for them to conclude this relatively trivial matter.” Baker added: “The council would be greatly improved if they banned people with a preference for cardigans and twin-sets from membership.”

Baker contacted Crikey in response to a brief report on the Press Council verdict published in yesterday’s edition of Crikey headlined “Baker shamed”.

“Be assured I feel not the slightest shame about my reporting of these matters,” Baker said in a statement (read it in full here). “Indeed, I am proud of my work last year exposing aspects of this still unresolved scandal.”

In an October piece “Gillard gave support for union group’s registration“, Baker revealed that Gillard had vouched for the legitimacy of the AWU Workplace Reform Association to West Australian authorities in 1992. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were allegedly later stolen from the association by Gillard’s former partner, AWU official Bruce Wilson.

In the story, Baker also reported accusations that Gillard’s former law firm Slater & Gordon was resisting pressure to give self-confessed fraudster Ralph Blewitt access to the association’s incorporation file.

Slater & Gordon argued they should have been contacted for comment because they would have informed Baker the firm did not hold any files on the incorporation of the association. The firm would have been unable to release the files anyway, because Blewitt was not Gillard’s client.

The Press Council backed Slater & Gordon in its verdict:

“The Council has concluded that the publication failed to take reasonable steps to ensure fairness in the report in relation to whether the firm held a file on incorporation of the association. Even if the story is interpreted as having done no more than report allegations, rather than endorse them, their gravity was such that the firm should have been given a reasonable opportunity to respond prior to publication.”

But Baker maintains The Age was right not to seek comment. “[W]e had obtained correspondence which confirmed Slaters was indeed stalling and, as we explained in our response to the Press Council, we had genuine concerns that if we flagged details of our reporting we risked a court injunction to stop publication.

“Slaters subsequently announced that it could not find the incorporation file. We are left wondering why a big law firm can be so sloppy in handling files — especially documents that dealt with matters that, in 1995, had the potential to bring down the firm. That, I would have thought, is the real shame.”

Australian Press Council executive director Derek Wilding said: “The Council’s views and relevant facts are described in the adjudication. Unlike the Crikey article, it does not attribute shame to the journalist in question (nor name him).”

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10 thoughts on “‘Flawed and illogical’: Age ed blasts Press Council cardigan-wearers

  1. bushby jane

    I was pleased that Mark Baker was slapped on the wrist. His boring pursuit of Julia Gillard at that time didn’t have any new info to warrant continually write page after page of repetitive innuendo. Bernard Keane seemed to be the only journalist interested in picking him about it. Mark Baker should find another job in my book, perhaps with Rupert…

  2. CML

    Quite right bj. It seems to be an episode of Gillard bashing to me, and I am no fan of hers.
    Despite Baker banging on about the matter being ‘unresolved’, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of this. I think he should stop ‘digging’ before he buries himself!!

  3. Dogs breakfast

    The reporting at the time appered somewhat tawdry and mean. Given that this was coming from a section of the media that was the closest thing to a supporter, it was a little OTT.

    In the context of the outrageous treatment of Gillard, it was worse.

    It was a matter that was 17 years old, which seemed to me to be saying that Gillard, as a Solicitor (or was it a lawyer) may have helped someone set up a legal structure that may have led to nefarious activities. God help us, I thought that was the average job description for a legal adviser, whatever name you give them.

    But taking nearly a year to get an APC decision is certainly worth mocking.

  4. klewso

    Of what relevance is evidence in a “trial by media”?

  5. drmick

    This animal baker is being fed by whom? and for what purpose? He looks more ridiculous an insignificant every time he opens his liebook. Keep going thickhead; money for rubbish is on the way out. The rubbish is running the country now.

  6. kwikcounter

    Again, Mark Baker chooses to ignore the facts of life about law firms. Far from it being odd, or indeed reprehensible that Slaters could not locate the 1995 file, the fact is that it would have been extraordinary for such a file to remain in existence. Retention of old (paper) files is costly. As a result, the rules governing law firms require only that files are kept for 7 years. Only the most Dickensian, fuddy-fuddy and inefficient firms would retain files (as opposed to deeds, wills etc) 12 or 15 years after a transaction.
    The Press Council can look after itself, but are we impressed by the style of Baker’s attack on it? It’s ruling is so obviously correct.

  7. David Hand

    I feel your pain, fellas. The most left wing daily newspaper went after Gillard and it’s dang awkward. This inquiry has been held up because of Slater & Gordon’s blocking of police access to the seized files. Now that they’ve lost that action and the police have the documents, including Gillard’s notes, I fear the outcome of that investigation will cause more pain for you all.

    The big joke here is that allegedly, donations ostensibly for workplace education were stolen from AWU members through the misrepresentation of a re-election slush fund and then stolen again for a union official to invest in real estate. Allegedly.

    And Gillard got sacked over it. Allegedly.

  8. TheFamousEccles

    Another example of a rightard not able to accept the umpire’s decision. Allegedly.

  9. John Ryan

    Well if Gillard is cleared which I hope and believe she will be there are going to be a lot of nervous Right wing warriors.
    Both the OZ and AGE defamed her Smith and the 2GB dogs wonder how many swimming pools she needs

  10. bushby jane

    Pity the AWB scandal is not pursued as doggedly so far after the event as the supposed AWU scandal. Slipper is in heaps of strife over around $1000, Gillard’s is a big deal over around $4000, however Abbott’s around $9000 and Reith’s around $50000 are apparently not so bad.