News Corp attacks Press Council

On Friday afternoon, the Australian Press Council announced its board had voted to remove Carla McGrath as a public member of the council — an end of sorts to the sorry saga of its own making. McGrath’s appointment has been marred since beginning last May, stemming from her other role as deputy chair for lobby group GetUp.

May 25, 2017

The Press Council announces McGrath’s appointment, as “the first Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person to join the council”. The press release also noted her “strong record of engagement in advocacy”.

May 26, 2017

The Press Council issues a correction to its announcement press release, correcting the assertion that McGrath was the first Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person to join the council. “In fact, the Press Council has had at least two Indigenous members in the past,” the correction read.

June 1, 2017

NewsWorksMedia, a publishers’ industry body, publishes a story about McGrath’s appointment on its website, saying her position “could be viewed as at odds with its stated commitment to ‘independent scrutiny'”. This story is picked up on Twitter by journalists, including AAP’s Canberra bureau chief Paul Osborne.

June 2, 2017

The Australian starts one of its full assaults, opening with a front-page declaration that it would boycott any adjudications McGrath was involved in. The Press Council responds with an afternoon press release, saying McGrath’s potential conflicts of interest had been flagged, but the appointment was made anyway:

The issue was canvassed at length at the May meeting of Council. Following that discussion, the overwhelming majority of the Council Members was satisfied that any potential conflicts of interest could be successfully managed, and Ms McGrath’s appointment was made.

June 6, 2017

After daily reports from The Australian about McGrath, the Press Council and her appointment, the Press Council issued another statement, doubling down on McGrath’s position. It described the processes for handling perceived or actual conflicts of interest, and then cited the votes to appoint McGrath as 14-1, with an abstention (the vote against was from News Corp, publisher of The Australian).

June 9, 2017

Another statement was put out by the Press Council to clarify that Daily Mail Australia‘s Peter Holder voted against the appointment, and wanted the minutes of the meeting changed, taking the votes to 14-2 for McGrath’s appointment.

June 21, 2017

Press Council chair David Weisbrot resigned, saying the reason for leaving was “persistent personal attacks and a campaign of “misinformation”.

December 13, 2017

The council appoints Neville Stephens as its new chair.

April 19, 2018

Neville Stephens tells Melbourne Press Club that the Press Council had revised its practices and approved an “overarching conflict of interest policy”. All members had been asked to identify potential conflicts of interest to be considered.

May 11, 2018

The Press Council announces it has completed that review, and decided McGrath’s GetUp position was “incompatible with her continued role as a public member of council”. The council has asked her to resign, but according to the Press Council’s statement, she has refused. “Council will now take the necessary steps to remove Ms McGrath as a public member of Council in accordance with the constitution, a process which should be completed at the next council meeting in August,” the statement said.