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

LATEST FINDINGS

 

DATE 11TH MAY 2018

 

Determination: Helsby v. West Australian Newspaper

 

On 24 January 2018 The West Australian, in the Commercial Property section, published an article headed “Eco Plan Stymied by Bureaucracy”.

 

The story was about a three year saga over a proposed energy efficient, medium density development (13 units and two offices and shared community space) on a 1476sqm block in Swanbourne.

 

Mr Ken Helsby complains that the article lacks balance and failed to tell “the other side of the story”. Particularly, there was no mention of the reporter having spoken to adversely affected neighbours or others opposed to the project. Mr Helsby claims that the land is not zoned for what the developer wants to build.

 

The article was clearly written from a developer’s perspective of the lengthy time it took to gain approval for the project. Those opposed to the project were dismissively described as a “vocal minority” and “some councilors” who caused the loss of bonuses applied to sustainable projects and a reduction in the number of units to 9. The article did not refer to their reasons for opposing the development.

 

The newspaper defends the story saying the Commercial Property section of the paper has the purpose of telling readers what is happening in that sector and the article was not about the pros and cons of the development, but the length of time taken and issues in getting the project to that point.

 

The Code of Conduct requires that “Publications must take all reasonable steps to ensure reports are honest, accurate, balanced and fair and disclose all essential facts”.

 

Although the article did not tell “the other side of the story”, a reasonable reader would understand that the Council had taken account of those objections when requiring that the project be significantly modified. The story was not about the details of those objections, it was about the developer’s journey particularly as it related to government planning policies and red tape.

 

For these reasons we do not consider that there was any lack of balance, and the complaint is not upheld.

 

DATE 15TH MARCH 2018

 

Determination: Richard Titelius v “The West Australian”

 

Richard Titelius complains about headlines, articles and advertisements in The West Australian in early March 2018 dealing with alcohol.

 

“PRICE CALL ON BOOZE TO CUT BINGE HARM’ and “WAs BOOZE CULTURE FILLS HOSPITAL EDs” were two headlines and articles juxtaposed with a half page Liquor Stax advertisement for cheap alcohol.

 

Mr Titelius complains that the use of the terms “booze” and “grog” together with alcohol advertising debase the seriousness of articles about the devastating effects of alcohol abuse.

 

He also claims hypocrisy and lack of credibility in relation to the proposed banned drinkers register and the views of the Australian Hotels Association.

 

Whilst we understand Mr Titelius’s sentiment, we cannot find any breach of the Independent Media Council Code of Conduct, nor do we agree that the use of the vernacular imports any greater or lesser meaning or significance to the word alcohol.

 

For these reasons the complaint is dismissed.

 

DATE 15TH JANUARY 2018

 

Determination: ‘’An Anonymous Mother” v. The West Australian

 

On 23 November 2016 ‘The West Australian’ (WAN) published a frontpage headline “15-year-old alleged ‘Mr Big’ of Perth’s meth trade” with the spill over story on page 7. The story concerned a 15 year old boy arrested by police for allegedly selling 100gms of methamphetamine. Colour photographs of the boy appeared on both pages of the report and these were pixelated to obliterate his face.

 

More than 12 months later the boy’s mother complains that the photographs breached the newspaper’s privacy policy by being poorly pixelated thus allowing him to be easily recognisable. She claims that third parties were able to reveal her son’s identity on the internet by comparing the pixelated photos to his facebook photos. She also says that ‘a year later he is still being recognised in the street and it has had a devastating impact on our family’.

 

The WAN denies any responsibility for this situation and queries whether the boy’s identity was revealed on the internet in the manner claimed. However it acknowledges that the photos it published came from his facebook page.

 

The WAN’s privacy policy barred publication of any material from which the boy’s identity could reasonably be ascertained. Because he was a child the WAN had to take ‘special care’ to ensure this did not happen. There was an added requirement for the newspaper take ‘extra care’ by reason of him facing criminal proceedings.

 

Although the published photos obliterated the boy’s facial features, his lengthy hair and the background details remained untouched. His hair was fairly distinctive, and in our opinion could well have been recognized by people familiar with his facebook photos. In the event of this happening a simple comparison of the published photos with the facebook photos would have confirmed his identity.

 

Although we are unable to verify that the boy’s identity was in fact revealed in this way, the risk that this might happen was forseeable at the time of publication. For this reason we find that the WAN failed to take ‘special care’ to ensure that publication of the edited facebook photos would not result in revelation of his identity.

 

This determination is based entirely upon the terms of the WAN’s privacy policy and should not be regarded as a commentary on any legal issues involved.

 

For these reasons the complaint is upheld.

 

DATE 8TH JANUARY 2018

 

Determination: Glenn Scott v. The West Australian

 

On 27 November 2017 The West Australian published a 3 page feature on Azerbaijan under the headline “Baku to the future”.

 

Glen Scott complains that the article, in relation to corruption in Azerbaijan, breached Media Council guidelines in that it was not honest, accurate and balanced, did not disclose all relevant facts and therefore gave a distorting emphasis.

 

The article arose out of a trade mission by 28 business people to Azerbaijan,including a journalist, who conducted interviews with participants.

 

The journalist’s trip was paid for by the Azerbaijan Consulate. This was declared, in the usual way, at the end of the article.

 

As a result of credible reports in reputable international journals, Azerbaijan has an unenviable reputation as a corrupt dictatorship.

 

In 2013, the government reportedly declared the election result before voting had started.

 

Azerbaijan ranks 162 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index, no doubt because of it’s jailing of journalists, activists and civil rights lawyers.

 

Azerbaijan ranked 119 out of 168 countries in the 2015 World Bank Corruption Perception Index. Since then a scandal involving $2.9 billion money laundering into offshore accounts of Azerbaijan’s leaders, to be used to buy political influence, has been exposed.”

 

Some of this was reported in the article, but in a manner favourable to the Azerbaijan government. Generally, the tenor of the article is one of glowing praise for Azerbaijan.

 

One businessman was quoted as saying that he believes the government has made a concerted effort to address perceptions of corruption.

 

The article opined “current allegations appear to be political rather than corporate”.

 

In our opinion, the article was an opinion piece and therefore not subject to the more rigorous requirements of news reporting.

 

Regardless of whether there was any credible basis for some of the opinions expressed, opinion pieces are about what people think.

 

The dangers inherent in journalists accepting “freebies” are well illustrated by this article. However, no breach of the Code of Conduct has occurred.

 

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