The Australian censured for failure to ensure accuracy in ‘Nukes never free’ story

News Corp’s The Australian has been censured by the Australian Press Council over its ‘Nukes never free, senator told’ story, for failing to ensure accuracy and fairness and balance in its reporting.

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The article, which also ran online under the headline ‘Nuclear energy never free, Senator Sean Edwards told’, followed an announcement by the Senator on March 12 that urged governments to investigate the importation and recycling of spent nuclear fuel.

The story referred to comments made following the Senator’s announcement by former chairman of Britain’s Office for Nuclear Development Dr Tim Stone stating he had “questioned claims” by the Senator and had said that nuclear energy was “no free lunch” and “energy is never free”.

Wade Laube, who submitted the complaint on behalf of Senator Sean Edwards, said the article and headline implied Dr Stone was directly rebutting the Senator’s proposed plan when Dr Stone made clear he had not seen the proposal and his remarks were general.

The complainant said the article inaccurately reported that Senator Edwards claimed his “plan to use spent fuel rods to generate nuclear power would revive South Australia’s ailing economy within five years” and that he was “promising it would lead to free power and the abolition of $4.4 billion in state taxes”.

Laube said the Senator had told The Australian there were “a scale of possibilities” and a five-year time frame was never mentioned. He said the article was also inaccurate in implying that the Senator had said nuclear power would be free because the Senator had identified in the business model where and by whom the costs would actually be borne.

The Australian defended the article saying it was “inconceivable” that Dr Stone had not seen the Senator’s comments. The national broadsheet said it had agreed to publish an opinion piece by the Senator which he could have used to raise his concerns.

However at a later stage in the Council’s review of the complaint, after reviewing its record, The Australian accepted Dr Stone had not seen that Senator’s proposals and that the article inaccurately implied Dr Stone was commenting on it.

The Australian published a clarification and an apology and said this was “adequate redress”.

While the Press Council acknowledges “and gives credit for the publication’s later clarification”, the Council’s view was that it should have been published earlier.

It was the Council’s conclusion that The Australian had failed to take reasonable steps to ensure accuracy and fairness and balance in reporting the story.


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