SMH scrapes clear of complaint to Press Council over NBN supplement
The Press Council is to develop additional guidelines governing advertiser sponsored supplements after a complaint made against the SMH. The Sydney Morning Herald barely scraped clear of a complaint made to newspaper regulatory body Press Council over a supplement about the NBN in which Optus had the sole ad placements.
The supplement was labelled as a “special report” rather than an “advertising supplement.” The Press Council found that: “The use of the words “Special Report” did not assist substantially to provide such identification as they do not clearly and prominently convey the requisite message. They can reasonably be interpreted as promising rigorous investigation and analysis and, indeed, are often used for precisely that purpose.”
The complaint, by Liberal MP Paul Fletcher, criticised the SMH for what he claimed was biased reporting, and a lack of clear differentiation between advertorial or editorial: “The Sydney Morning Herald published a four page ‘special report’ entitled ‘Update on the NBN’. This contained a series of articles seemingly by Herald journalists. These articles are largely an uncritical and distorted picture of NBN.”
The Fairfax paper claimed that the supplement “had been prepared in accordance with normal editorial standards and without external intervention” and was intended to provide practical information and advice for consumers..
The Council found that the fact that the supplement was sufficiently distinct from the main body of the paper due to its physical separation, and therefore did not uphold the complaint. However, it said that “Specific Standards of Practice” need to be developed to avoid further confusion, and announced that it plans to consult with the media industry and community to develop them.
“The Council emphasises, however, that there is a substantial risk of breaching those principles unless supplements of this kind prominently display an explanation of their limited purpose. This could involve an unequivocal branding such as “Promotional Supplement” and/or a prominent box at the beginning of the supplement which clearly explains the limited purpose. There should also be a prominent disclosure of any vested interests which have funded any supplement or written some of it. This requirement is also necessitated by the Council’s principles about conflicts of interest.”
The SMH has published the full text on its website.