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NOVEMBER 25, 2013
RE: COMPLAINT OF THE ISLAMIC COUNCIL OF WA AND THE WEEKEND WEST
On 2 November 2013 ‘The Weekend West’ published a cartoon on its editorial page entitled “Jihad (South West Cell)”. The cartoon caricatured Muslim terrorists whom it suggested were responsible for explosives found by police divers in the Leschenault Estuary, and depicted a fanciful explanation as to why the explosives had been placed there.
The Islamic Council of Western Australia complains that the cartoonist stereotyped Muslims of the South West as Afghani terrorists, and without any evidence jumped to the conclusion that they were responsible for the explosives found in the estuary. This unfounded allegation was highly offensive, disrespectful of West Australian Muslim citizens, and added nothing of value to the news of the day. The cartoon also poked fun at Muslim traditional dress by using caricatures with racist overtones, which was a slur on all men who dress in a similar way.
In response “The Weekend West” acknowledges that the lampooning of certain aspects of human behaviour in cartoons often shocks and confronts particular elements of society.
Cartoons might also offend, insult, or even humiliate and intimidate individuals or groups of people of a particular race, colour, or national or ethnic origin. However that does not mean that a cartoon is published because of the race, colour, national or ethnic origin of the people to whom it relates, and there was no such intent in the present case.
The IMC’s Code of Conduct makes no express provision in respect of cartoons, but stipulates more generally that there should be honesty, accuracy, reasonableness, fairness, and balance in all published materials. When applying these standards to cartoons it is necessary to have regard to the special nature of that form of publication. Cartoons are unique in that they commonly address political issues and other serious topics by the use of humour, satire or irony. The purpose in doing this can vary but it is usually clear from the cartoon itself whether it intends to express an editorial opinion, to invite the reader to look at an issue differently, or to simply entertain. It is also usually clear from the cartoon itself
whether or not its content is to be taken seriously or literally.
The way in which a cartoon is interpreted by its readers may also vary depending upon their individual viewpoints, prejudices and life experiences. However we consider that for present purposes the proper interpretation of any cartoon is that which would be arrived at by a reasonable person holding the enduring values and common viewpoints of the general public.
In the present instance the cartoon was a satirical depiction of Muslim terrorists also depicted as being responsible for the explosives found in the estuary. The cartoon did not express any opinion about Islamic matters, and its narrative was so fanciful and ludicrous that it clearly was not to be taken seriously. The apparent intent of the cartoon was to entertain its readers by making fun of terrorists, and it was entirely a matter of individual taste and opinion amongst its readership as to whether or not it succeeded in that aim.
Most readers also were aware that Muslim terrorists act contrary to the core tenets of Islam, and are not representative of the broader Muslim community. In all of these circumstances a reasonable person reading the cartoon would not have interpreted it as an attack or negative commentary on Muslims generally. A reasonable person would also understand the figures in traditional dress to be caricatures of terrorists rather than caricatures of Muslim men in general.
Although we do not uphold the complaint we accept that the complainants were genuinely offended by the cartoon. Muslim Australians are as law abiding as any other segment of our society, yet bear the burden of having to share the same religion as extremist terrorists overseas. Given the sensitivities of this situation it is quite understandable that the local Muslim community will be offended by any suggestion (even satirical) that there are terrorists in their midst. However freedom of expression includes freedom to offend, and we find that the cartoon did not breach the IMC Code of Conduct.
NOVEMBER 12, 2013
RE: COMPLAINT OF MRS HEATHER MATTHEWS AND AUGUSTA MARGARET RIVER TIMES
Heather Matthews lodged complaints about two articles which appeared in the August Margaret River Times (page 6) on 25th October 2013 under the headlines “Closed doors claims haunt Karridalers” and “Crossroads community in crossfire”.
Heather Matthews complained that the journalist, Rhys Dickinson “did not use the verifiable facts that were available but wrote two articles that were mischievous and intended to create conflict in a small community”.
The first article reported criticisms of the Karridale Progress Association (KPA) and its President Heather Matthews for lack of financial and organisational transparency, non-availability of a financial report and lack of meetings and elections.
The article stated that residents were expected to present a petition to KPA calling for an open meeting to properly elect office bearers. No petition was in fact presented, and the newspaper subsequently reported that it had been ‘withdrawn’.
Heather Matthews was reported as saying that an AGM was held on 21st January. This is denied by Mrs Matthews and is admitted to be an error by the journalist. A subsequent correction has been printed in the newspaper. The AGM was in fact held on 13th February and office bearers were
appointed/elected at that meeting.
The article printed a response to the criticisms by Heather Matthews as well as her positive reaction to the prospect of greater community involvement in the KPA.
The second article focussed on a conflict between two women over differing proposals for new Karridale markets – a community market supported by Christine Brown, and a farmers market supported by Heather Matthews and the KPA.
The article quoted Christine Brown as alleging that the farmers market was started by Heather Matthews following a quarrel on Facebook in October 2013. This cannot be correct given the timing of the grant application process.
The KPA had successfully applied for a $7350 Australia Post grant for the farmers market.
Applications for that grant had closed on 28th June 2013.
The Independent Media Council Code of Conduct specifies that “publications must take all reasonable steps to ensure reports are honest, accurate, balanced and fair and disclose all essential facts. Reports must not suppress relevant available facts or give distorting emphasis. Where a report disparages any person or individual, all reasonable steps must be taken to provide a “contemporaneous right of reply”.
We believe this is particularly important when reporting conflict in a small community.
It is generally not acceptable to report demonstrably false allegations on the basis that it accurately reflected what one protagonist said, even if accompanied by a denial.
These articles contained allegations which publically available information established were incorrect – namely the meeting date; that many believed that office bearers had not been properly elected the past four years when an AGM was held this year and office bearers appointed/elected at that meeting, and the origin of the farmers market proposal.
Further, the second article did not contain a response from Heather Matthews to the critical allegation that she only started the farmers market following a quarrel on Facebook.
Accuracy and fairness are the journalistic values central to this determination. If pertinent questions were asked and publically available material researched, then the facts would have emerged.
For these reasons we uphold the complaint and direct the Augusta Margaret River Times to publish this determination as near as possible to the page on which the impugned articles appeared.
OCTOBER 8, 2013
RE: COMPLAINT OF MS JOAN ABBA
ISSUE 47 OF THE DIABETIC LIVING MAGAZINE
Pacific Magazines Pty Ltd is the publisher of the bi-monthly magazine “Diabetic Living”.
In August 2013 Joan Abba purchased a copy of issue 47 because of a statement on its cover that the magazine contained “50 great recipes for diabetics”.
Ms Abba complains that when she read the magazine there were no such recipes, and that the cover had misrepresented its contents.
The cover in fact stated that there were “50 new recipes to lose weight” which was essentially the same assertion as that referred to by Ms Abba.
A perusal of the magazine also shows that it contained 53 recipes (some with variations of ingredients) along with nutritional information, a
sample weekly menu planner, as well as a “recipe finder “ indicating which recipes were gluten free and/or vegetarian.
The publisher advises that all of these recipes were developed by the food editor in collaboration with an accredited practicing dietician to ensure that the dishes featured would be nutritionally balanced, and would allow diabetics (by means of the recipe planner) to achieve good blood glucose and weight management.
In our opinion the title “Diabetic Living” clearly indicated that the intended readers were people with diabetes, and that its entire contents would be devoted to that subject (which was in fact the case).
Accordingly any reasonable person reading the cover would have understood that the 50 recipes referred to were suitable for diabetics.
While it would seem that Ms Abba had a genuine misunderstanding about the contents of the magazine, there was no misrepresentation, and her complaint is not made out.
Peter Blaxell, Chairman
Independent Media Council
OCTOBER 6, 2013
RE: COMPLAINT OF MR MIKE PREVELLY REGARDING THE WEST AUSTRALIAN NEWSPAPER ARTICLE OF 1 OCTOBER 2013
THE WEST LIVE EXHIBITION ADVERTISEMENT
In promoting its forthcoming “West Live” exhibition, The West Australian published a series of photographs of some of the better known personalities behind stories in the paper.
Objection was taken to one particular photograph, published on a number of days including on page 64 on 1/10/2013, of restaurant critic Rob Broadfield holding a very large knife. The photograph was accompanied by the words “Are you ready for a culinary adventure?” and details of the event.
Mr Mike Prevelly complained that the advertisement was threatening, upsetting and disturbing and would promote fear and apprehension, especially in children.
Mr Prevelly further stated that an acceptable alternative was another photograph of Rob Broadfield holding BBQ tongs with a cooked chop, which was also published to promote the event.
We do not agree for three reasons:
Firstly, a kitchen knife is recognised as an essential tool of trade for a chef and therefore synonymous with restaurant food preparation.
Secondly, the photograph is no more frightening than others regularly found in newspapers such as bombings and chemical weapons in Syria, soldiers with weapons designed to kill and natural disasters, to name but a few.
Thirdly, Rob Broadfield has a wry smile on his face which, while it could be interpreted in a number of ways, we take to indicate a sense of fun and enjoyment – not that he intended to use the knife for untoward purposes.
Peter Blaxell, Chairman
Independent Media Council
SEPTEMBER 18, 2013
RULING OF COMPLAINT LODGED BY JAMES BARRETT
On June 22, 2013 The West Australian published a front page story under the headline “Time Bomb — community leaders call for help amid fears of violence in the suburbs”. The article continued on pages 4 and 5 under the headings “East African youths ready to snap” and “Angry, invisible youths ready to snap”. It spoke of alienated East African refugee youths, racism, their threats of violence directed toward police, and the concerns of ethnic community leaders, past and present, that these problems might escalate in the future.
The complainants, who work for a number of organisations supporting the East African community, essentially claim that the articles are unbalanced, have a distorting emphasis, and consequentially are inaccurate. They say that the articles targeted problematic youth rather than the mainstream majority; did more harm than good; were inflammatory, and precipitated many letters to the editor which were racist in tone and hostile to East African young people. They also say that the juxtaposition of an article about black male violence with a front page photograph of adventurous white women working as jillaroos in the Kimberley underlined the racial aspects of the story.
Steve Pennells, the journalist who wrote the articles, has detailed the research which gave rise to the story, the breadth of sources quoted, and the steps that he took to ensure the accuracy of the articles. The West Australian contends that other contemporaneous articles, including a sympathetic editorial on the issues, and a photo story about a young Sudanese woman selected in the State women’s football team, helped to provide balance. The newspaper also explained its policy of publishing letters to the editor expressing contrary points of view in proportion to the numbers of letters received in support of each alternative view. Further, the opinions expressed in the letters were not those of the paper, and provided that they were within the law, it was not open to the newspaper to censor those letters which might be offensive or controversial.
The articles referred to a “section” of East African youth who were members of the Sudanese community. The Code of Conduct, which binds the newspaper, requires that there be no reference to racial or ethnic characteristics unless these are relevant. In this case the identification of the area and country of origin was important to the story and its integrity. Without that identification the articles would not have explained the reasons why these particular youths had become alienated from the rest of society, and the story would have lost much of its meaning. Accordingly, we consider that the racial and ethnic background of the youths was relevant.
The articles also quoted the concerns of respected members of the East African community and of the former head of the Ethnic Communities Council of WA about threats made by the youths and the risks with their future behaviour. The content of the story was thoroughly researched, was a good example of investigative journalism, and shone a spotlight on a serious problem in the community which needed to be addressed before it got out of control.
It is our opinion that the articles were balanced and fair, and complied with the Code of Conduct.
We also agree with The West Australian’s policies concerning publication of letters to the editor. In our democratic society members of the public are entitled to freedom of expression, and it is not the role of a newspaper to censor letters expressing opinions which can be lawfully published merely because they are offensive. The role of a newspaper is to report faithfully (in a balanced way) the full range of views within the community about matters of significance.
For these reasons the complaint is not upheld.
FEBRUARY 23, 2013
REFERENCE: COMPLAINT OF THE WILDERNESS SOCIETY (WA) INC AND ENVIRONS KIMBERLEY REGARDING AN ARTICLE PUBLISHED IN THE WEST AUSTRALIAN NEWSPAPER ON 11 FEBRUARY 2013
On 11 February 2013, The West Australian newspaper published an article titled ‘Browse Project: Offshore gas hub is no benefit to WA: Barnett’.
The article quoted comments made by the Western Australian Premier, Mr Colin Barnett, concerning the prospect that the Browse joint venture parties might jettison plans to build a gas hub at James Price Point in the Kimberley in favour of building an offshore floating LNG platform.
The complainants, The Wilderness Society (WA) Inc and Environs Kimberley, contend (in separate complaints) in sum that the article was biased, one-sided and factually inaccurate, that it lacked journalistic or editorial rigour and that it is likely to do a disservice to the Western Australian public by presenting biased and false information from a community leader, unchallenged and unchecked, during an election campaign where the issue is highly relevant.
They ask for an opportunity to respond, in the case of The Wilderness Society (WA) Inc, by an article of equal size and prominence.
What is said by the Premier is generally a matter of public interest and in this case was reported by the newspaper without comment of its own, other than by way of the provision of background information.
There is no suggestion that the newspaper did not quote Mr Barnett accurately. Each of the complainants has been invited to send a letter to the Editor, advancing its own view, for possible publication.
The Wilderness Society (WA) Inc has previously (on 13 November 2012) had published in the newspaper an opinion piece outlining its opposition to an onshore gas hub.
We do not consider that there was any obligation on the part of the newspaper to investigate the accuracy of what was said by the Premier before publishing what had been said by him without comment of its own.
Nor, in all of the circumstances, do we consider that the newspaper should be required to give equal space and prominence to a refutation by those with a different view.
Christopher Steytler, chairman
Independent Media Council
FEBRUARY 19, 2013
Reference: Complaint of Mr Johnny Montani regarding articles published in The West Australian newspaper on 17 November 2012
On 17 November 2012, The West Australian newspaper published three articles in a series relating to comments by Justice Brian Martin, in a judgment acquitting Lloyd Rayney on a charge of murdering his wife, concerning police handling of the case.
On 5 February 2013, the Council received a complaint from Mr Johnny Montani regarding two of the three articles. The two articles, written by Colleen Egan, referred to a police theory that had at one time been raised, but which was not advanced by the prosecution at Mr Rayney’s trial, that Mr Montani had been Mr Rayney’s ‘hit man’. Mr Montani’s complaint is that the journalist and the newspaper knew that he had an alibi for the night of the murder and that it was confirmed by CCTV footage, but did not disclose this. He contends that the omission was deliberate, so as to increase the ‘sensationalism value’ of the articles.
The first of the two articles complained of was the lead story. It ventilated claims by a witness in the Rayney trial to the effect that she had been threatened and intimidated by police. Part of the article quoted the witness as saying:
‘[Police] were convinced that there was a third person involved and that was a hit man and it just happened that Lloyd had represented an alleged hit man and that was Johnny Montani.
They implicated me in their theory because I recommended Lloyd to the Montani family because they were looking for a lawyer without links to bikie gangs. I have never met Johnny Montani or his family but the detectives just ran with it.
I left Perth when the whole Montani theory was going.’
The second article reported that the theory had not been advanced by the prosecution in Mr Rayney’s trial and that its case had been that Mr Rayney had acted alone. After mentioning that Mr Montani had previously been acquitted after being charged with the 2004 ‘hit-style murder of his bikie friend, Kevin “Mick” Woodhouse’, and that he had consistently maintained his innocence on that charge, the article went on to say:
‘Police investigating Corryn Rayney’s death raided his house in 2007 and accused him of being Mr Rayney’s accomplice, which he has strongly denied’.
The newspaper does not dispute that it was aware that Mr Montani had said that he had an alibi that was supported by CCTV footage. However, it argues that this was not germane to the lead story. It concedes that, with the benefit of hindsight, it might have been better to include Mr Montani’s contentions in the companion piece. It adds that, when it was brought to the reporter’s attention that Mr Montani had taken umbrage at the article, the reporter had, of her own volition, been quick to write a follow-up story, reading (in parts) as follows:
‘The theory [that Mr Rayney may have used a hit man] came to nothing and no evidence was presented at Mr Rayney’s trial to support it. ...
Police yesterday refused to comment on a reported call by Mr Montani to release CCTV footage of him at a Fremantle hotel on the night of Mr Rayney’s murder. He said it would prove his alibi and rid him of the innuendo about the case. He also called upon police to publicly rule him out of the investigation.
“This matter is before the courts, therefore we will not be providing any comment”, a police spokesman said.’
Under the Code of Conduct binding the newspaper, it ‘must take reasonable steps to ensure reports are honest, accurate, balanced and fair and disclose all essential facts’ and its reports ‘must not suppress relevant available facts or give distorting emphasis’.
Given the newspaper’s knowledge of Mr Montani’s assertions concerning his alibi (his lawyers had twice previously written to the newspaper, on 30 May 2012 and 19 October 2012, drawing its attention to them and the journalist had herself previously, on 11 November 2007, written an article in another newspaper that referred to Mr Montani’s alibi), it seems to us that Mr Montani’s assertions were an essential component of a fair and balanced report in at least the second of the two reports. Otherwise, a reasonable reader might well have been left under the impression that, if the theory referred to had been advanced by the prosecution, Mr Montani had only his firm denial in answer to it. The importance of reporting Mr Montani’s assertions was underlined by the concern previously expressed in his lawyers’ letters.
We accept that the omission was not deliberate, in an attempt to increase the ‘sensationalism value’ of the article, and that the journalist promptly published a follow-up piece referring to Mr Montani’s contentions. Nevertheless, we regard the omission as having constituted a failure to take reasonable steps to ensure that all essential facts were disclosed. To that extent, we uphold the complaint.
Christopher Steytler, chairman
Independent Media Council
FEBRUARY 12, 2013
Reference: Complaint of Mr Richard Egan regarding The West Australian newspaper article of 5 February 2013
On 5 February 2013, The West Australian newspaper published a front-page photo of Ms Barbara Harrison, above the caption 'END OF MY PAIN, Euthanasia campaigner's sad email farewell'. The report appeared on page 9 of the newspaper. Essentially, it told readers that Ms Harrison, a 64-year-old bed-ridden multiple sclerosis sufferer who had spent months lobbying politicians to support pro-euthanasia legislation, had committed suicide after sending an email (the content of which was also published) to friends and family. The article gave details concerning the manner of suicide.
In his complaint, Mr Egan contended that: (1) a detailed description should not have been given of the method used to commit suicide; (2) the report glamorised suicide; and (3) ethical concerns arose out of the journalist's prior knowledge of the planned suicide.
The article did give a detailed description of the method used. It identified the drug used and how it was ingested; it said from which country the drug had been obtained; and it said that the drug had been obtained through the post. This was done (in two paragraphs of the full page article) in a context in which Ms Harrison explained why she could not wait any longer - she was getting close to the point at which she could not have taken the drug unaided. Also, the newspaper argues, with some force, that the drug used has been well documented in the media as has been the means of obtaining it and the manner of ingesting it.
"Reports of suicide should only be published where there is an identifiable public interest reason to do so and should exclude any detailed description of the method used."
• Research shows that reporting the method of suicide is directly linked to copycat suicides. A more detailed description of the method can prompt some vulnerable people to imitate the act [we interpolate that people may be vulnerable for any number of reasons].
• In most cases the method of suicide will not be important to the story. Just because it is of interest to some members of the public does not mean it is 'in the public interest' to disclose the information.
• If it is important to the story, discuss the method in general terms only ... .
• Particular caution should [be exercised] when reporting a method that may be unusual. Research indicates that others may start to use that means of taking their own life following media reports.
In this case, the report could easily have explained the perceived urgency of Ms Harrison's action without naming the drug used or mentioning how and from where it had been obtained.
The issue was taken further by a report published by The West Australian on 9 February 2013 under the heading '$500 buys illegal death drug'. That article (which republished the photograph of Ms Harrison) reiterated that Ms Harrison had committed suicide by ingesting the named drug, before going on to mention that dozens of websites claimed to sell that drug (which it said had been described as 'the green dream' and 'the peaceful pill') in various forms and that 15 minutes of online searching and a couple of emails had produced two offers to ship the drug from overseas to Perth. While the article warned of the risk that non-genuine products might be obtained without recourse and that substantial penalties are applicable to illegal importation of the substance, it also:
a) identified an organisation that listed reliable sources of the drug and provided potency test kits and
b) reported that 'anecdotally, some Australians attempting to import the drug for personal use received warning letters from Customs instead of prosecution'.
We accordingly uphold the first part of Mr Egan's complaint.
We do not agree that the report glamorised suicide. Euthanasia has for some time been the subject of public and political debate. Ms Harrison had herself campaigned in support of it. The article compassionately told a difficult and very human story about an issue of great public interest. It was published at a time when the State election was some six weeks away. The tenor of the article (encapsulated by the headline 'Sufferer's sad goodbye') is one of sadness at the fact that Ms Harrison's pain and irreversible disabilities were such as to make continuation of life unbearable for her.
Nor are we able to accept Mr Egan's third contention, that the reporting of the story raises serious ethical questions to be asked about the reporter's handling of her prior knowledge of Ms Harrison's plan to commit suicide. In circumstances in which the journalist:
a) was told of Ms Harrison's plan in confidence;
b) did nothing to encourage her to implement it, save to agree to publish the story at Ms Harrison's request in circumstances in which there is a readily identifiable public interest in doing so;
c) had no reason to consider that Ms Harrison was unfit to make an informed and rational decision; and
d) did nothing to facilitate Ms Harrison's importation and use of the illegal drug;
we do not consider that her conduct was unethical.
We accordingly uphold that part of the complaint which relates to reporting details of the method used, but otherwise dismiss the complaint.
Christopher Steytler, chairman
Independent Media Council
Newspapers - West Australian Newspapers Ltd
The West Australian | The Weekend West
The Sunday Times
Countryman, Bunbury Herald, South Western Times, Busselton Dunsborough Times, Augusta Margaret River Times, Manjimup-Bridgetown Times, Great Southern Herald, Albany Advertiser, The Extra, Harvey-Waroona Reporter, Narrogin Observer, Great Southern Herald, Kalgoorlie Miner, Goldfields Express, Sound Telegraph, Southern Telegraph, Geraldton Guardian, Midwest Times, Northern Guardian, Pilbara News, North West Telegraph, Broome Advertiser,
The Kimberley Echo
Online - West Australian Newspapers Ltd
thewest.com.au, health.thewest.com.au, perthnow.com.au
Magazines - Pacific Magazines Pty Limited
Better Homes and Gardens, Bike, Bride To Be, Diabetic Living, family circle, Famous, Girlfriend, Home Beautiful, In Style, K-Zone, Lexus, marie claire,
Men’s Health, New Idea, Practical Parenting, Prevention, SBS Feast, Take One, that’s life, Total Girl, Voyeur, Who, Women’s Health, Your Garden
FUNDING BODIES / PUBLISHERS / PUBLICATIONS
Reference: Complaint of Mr Geoff Taylor regarding The West Australian newspaper, January 15 2013
On Tuesday 13 November 2012 The West Australian editorialised in support of the announcement by Prime Minister Julia Gillard of the royal commission into child sexual abuse in Australian institutions.
In parts the editorial stated:
"The issue of harm against children in care has been a running sore across the country for decades. Little by little accounts have emerged of the appalling behaviour by people in positions of responsibility in churches, educational institutions, hostels, scouting and sporting groups and others.
"Allegations about a church cover up of abuse by priests in NSW was the final catalyst for the decision to hold a royal commission but it is clear that these offences transcend institutions and state borders.
"The best potential outcome for this commission is that it will, once and for all, change the structures and attitudes that allow abuse to flourish.
"The chief aim should be to put in place safeguards to ensure that the type of institutional depravity and neglect it is examining can never be repeated."
Mr Geoff Taylor complained that the editorial was unfair to the scouting movement.
Particularly, Mr Taylor objected to the implication that persons in positions of responsibility in scouting were involved in child abuse and then covering it up.
Further, Mr Taylor questioned the specific reference to scouting in the editorial when other youth groups were not named, leading to the implication that scouting tolerated institutional depravity.
It is undeniable that over the years a number of scout masters have been convicted of sexually abusing those in their care — here in WA, Australia and also in other countries, notably the US. We believe the editorial correctly described this as "appalling behaviour by those in positions of responsibility".
We believe readers would understand the reference in the editorial that "these offences transcend institutions and State borders" to include both child sexual abuse and its cover up and that they were not confined to church priests in NSW. This is clearly correct and no doubt the full extent of the abuse and its cover up will be investigated by the royal commission.
The editorial did not say, nor do we believe it can be reasonably implied, that scouting specifically covered up and tolerated institutional depravity that is a matter for the royal commission to consider.
Accordingly we find the complaint not made out.
Christopher Steytler, chairman
Independent Media Council
© Independent Media Council 2012