Press Council chair Julian Disney has recused himself from hearing adjudications involving News Corp, after two News Corp papers wrote to the Press Council asked him to do so on two adjudications.
However, Disney has decided to abdicate from all future News Corp cases, a fact revealed in a statement by the Press Council’s executive director John Pender. Issued late this afternoon, the statement claims that the Press Council has sought the advice of John Doyle QC, the council’s vice chair, about whether there was a need for Disney to recuse himself following criticisms of his neutrality.
“Doyle considered that the demands for Prof Disney to withdraw were not justified, and I was of the same view,” Pender writes.
“Disney has advised me, however, that he will withdraw. Although he agrees with the view of the Vice Chair and myself, he believes the Council cannot afford to have its complaints work subjected to the further severe disruption which would flow from resisting the newspapers’ demands and related misrepresentations
“The Chair [Julian Disney] regrets that his decision may be interpreted as indicating that he would no longer be able to chair adjudications with sufficient independence from News Corp pressures.
“On the other hand, he is aware that concerns have already been expressed by a complainant that recent criticism in The Australian’s reports and editorials may cause him to be unduly responsive to such pressures when chairing adjudications.”
Pender also writes that Disney will not particulate in the adjudication of any complaints involving News Corp. However, the Council expects this will affect only one meeting before Disney leaves the Council in January when his term expires.
The Press Council has been under fire for what The Australian newspaper believes are several instances where it has overstepped its bounds and infringed on practices common to journalistic practice. These include an ongoing complaint about an article written by commentator Troy Branston, and one involving a Herald Sun story about a murder written by Keith Moor. Today, The Australian also published an article about an ongoing complaint involving its food writer John Lethlean.
Press Council complaints are confidential until they are resolved. The Australian has breached the confidentiality clauses on these adjudications, but the Press Council claims it is unable to respond to the allegations against it due to these confidentiality clauses.
The Australian, and to a lesser extent the Daily Telegraph, has been conducting a campaign against the Press Council for over a fortnight. Both Oz editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell and News Corp CEO Julian Clarke have recently indicated they intend to keep up the campaign.