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The Independent Media Council was formed in 2012 to handle complaints by readers against funding bodies.

FINDINGS 2015

 

19 NOVEMBER 2015

 

RE: COMPLAINT OF MS HEATHER OLD REGARDING THE WEST AUSTRALIAN NEWSPAPER CARTOON

 

The Alston cartoon published in The West Australian on Saturday 7 November depicted a group of women discussing the aftermath of the historic Melbourne Cup winning ride by Michelle Payne.

 

In short, the cartoon had the women deferring action on further important, ground breaking issues until after their latte, book club, waxing, hairdo and shopping.

 

Heather Old complains that the cartoon was "completely and utterly degrading to women" and that "this 'cartoon' basically tells men that they are right to think 'wimmin' are not able to contribute to society and 'let's all have a good laugh at the woman jockey who thinks she is better than us’."

 

The West Australian seeks to justify the cartoon on the basis of irony - that it used language, stereotype or cliché in such an absurd way that it would normally mean the opposite. In other words, that by saying women were more interested in doing inconsequential things that, in context, the reader would somehow understand this to mean the opposite.

 

The hostile reaction to the cartoon, both anecdotally and through letters to the editor, suggests that many of The West Australian's readers view the matter very differently - that there was no irony, only old fashioned sexism.

 

The role of the Independent Media Council is not to be the arbiter of good taste, nor what is offensive. The IMC Code of Conduct lays down the principles by which any complaint will be adjudicated.

 

Two relevant principles are that reports should not unnecessarily refer to personal characteristics such as gender, nor give distorting emphasis to any report. Cartoons are to be judged differently to news reports because they are often not meant to be taken literally, and the cartoonist's tools of trade will include satire, lampoon, parody, irony and stereotyping - all in the name of humour or to make a point.

 

While we do not think this cartoon achieved any of its stated objectives and would be highly offensive to a great number of readers, we find that there is nothing in the Code of Conduct which has been breached by its publication.

8 OCTOBER 2015

 

RE: COMPLAINT OF MR RICHARD REILLY REGARDING THE SOUTH WESTERN TIMES NEWSPAPER ARTICLE

 

Mr Richard Reilly complains about an article which appeared on page 2 of the South Western Times on 17 September 2015 under the heading “Growth requires people, why not refugees?”

 

Mr Reilly asserts that the article was “offensive, contains misappropriated (sic) information and is also factually incorrect.”

 

The article was an opinion piece commenting on Australia agreeing to accept 12,000 Syrian refugees. It advocated a non-discriminatory approach to selecting those to come to Australia and questioned the proviso that they be mainly Christian.

 

Mr Reilly has provided no information to support his assertions and we find the article to be unobjectionable – although some people may disagree with the author’s opinions. Mr. Reilly is entitled to hold a different view point from the author as the author is entitled to his opinion. That is what freedom of speech is about. We dismiss the complaint.

 

26 MAY 2015

 

RE: COMPLAINT OF MR JOHN BARICH REGARDING THE WEST AUSTRALIAN NEWSPAPER NON PUBLISHING OF AN ARTICLE

 

John Barich is National Vice President of the Australian Family Association (AFA), which opposes any changes to the marriage laws that would allow same sex marriage. Mr Barich has twice asked “The West Australian” newspaper (WAN) to publish articles outlining AFA’s views but WAN has not done so. When declining to publish on the second occasion WAN stated that the submitted article did not “really work as an opinion piece”, was “too long”, and did not “focus on the main point”.

 

Mr Barich complains that WAN’s refusal to publish the AFA articles shows a lack of balance. He also claims that over “the last couple of years” WAN has published at least 20 opinion pieces favouring same sex marriage but not one “in favour of the Marriage Act defining the union of a man and woman”. He asks that the IMC intervene “for the sake of balanced reporting”.

 

WAN’s response is that the complaint does not disclose any specific breach of the IMC Code of Conduct. Furthermore, and although the Code does not require WAN to publish any submitted material, the Editor has in fact published a long letter from Mr Barich opposing same sex marriage, as well as similar letters from others of the same view. WAN claims that it provides an outlet for a wide range of opinions, and has also recently published a full page article by Senator Dean Smith opposing the Same Sex Marriage Bill (along with a full page article by Senator Penny Wong favouring that Bill). WAN has searched its archive but cannot find 20 opinion pieces in favour of same-sex marriage as referred to by Mr Barich.

 

Clearly, Mr Barich is not correct in asserting that WAN has not published any opinion piece ‘in favour of the Marriage Act defining a union of man and woman’. Apart from the full page article by Senator Smith, there has been at least one other (by The Anglican Archbishop of Perth Roger Herft) which canvassed the possibility of a “civil union“ for same sex couples but also favoured the institution of “marriage” remaining as it is.

 

The limited materials we have seen do not allow any comparison of the numbers of published articles which favoured same sex marriage with the numbers of those which did not. In any event we are of the opinion that the question of balance in WAN’s reporting of the issue of same sex marriage cannot turn upon such a comparison.

 

As with most matters of public controversy the newsworthiness of the ‘story’ is not the present status quo (being the institution of marriage as it has existed since time immemorial), but the growing support in the community for changes to the current system. Accordingly it is quite understandable that the focus of media coverage of the issue of same sex marriage is on the reasons why people are seeking change rather than on the merits of the present system (with which readers are already very familiar).

 

The critical question concerning balance is whether WAN has allowed publication of the full range of opinions on the issue of same sex marriage as held by reasonable people in the community. It seems to us that the answer to that question is that WAN does publish the full range of views, and we are not satisfied that there has been any attempt to restrict publication of those opinions which are against same sex marriage.

 

For these reasons the complaint is not upheld.

 

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