The Australian denounces Press Council as chair Disney rejects claims of conflict of interest

Julian Disney

Julian Disney

The Australian newspaper has taken aim at the Australian Press Council (APC) and its chairman Dr Julian Disney, claiming he has a conflict of interest in a complaint currently before the regulator because he once spoke at the same function as the subject of the complaint.

In an editorial over the weekend the News Corporation newspaper accused Disney, who is stepping down from the role at the end of the year, of having a conflict in a complaint before the council involving a report by the paper which that former Labor federal minister Arthur Gietzelt had been a secret member of the Communist Party.

“We cannot speak for our stablemates, but this newspaper has lost confidence in APC chairman Julian Disney and deplores the direction in which he has taken the council,” the newspaper wrote in the editorial on Saturday. “The APC has become erratic in its rulings, unmoored from its foundations, ponderous and serpentine in its procedures, sidetracked by its chairman’s peculiar tastes and political predilections and ineffective as a body that promotes good practice.”

Last month the Council took the unusual step of giving an “expression of considerable concern” over the handling by the paper over incorrect reporting of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last September, and its delays in correcting errors when they were pointed out.

In a statement the APC rejected the paper’s claims, with Disney stating: “The only possible contact of which I am aware is that Sen Gietzelt apparently spoke at a public meeting in 1988 at which I was also an invited speaker. If there was any contact between us it would only have been for the purpose of being introduced to each other.

“The newspaper conjectured that other contacts might have occurred more than twenty to thirty years ago when I was President of ACOSS and a member of government advisory committees. So far as I am aware no contacts of that or any other kind occurred at any time.”

The unusual statement from the APC and its chair came after The Australian chose to breach the confidentiality process in Council adjudications lambasting the organisation for its recent decisions which have seen the newspaper and its sister titles breached on a number of occasions.

In its media section on Monday the newspaper said newspaper publishers might want to consider forming a new body along the lines of Western Australia’s Independent Media Council which was launched as a rival to the APC by West Australian Newspapers in 2012, as new rules meaning members would have to give four years’ notice before they could withdraw from the APC were introduced.

However, in a statement to Mumbrella this morning a spokesman said: “News Corp Australia has made commitments to its funding and membership of The Australian Press Council and those commitments remain in place.”

The APC’s statement, written by executive director John Pender, noted the damage the breach of confidentiality over the current complaint around Sen Gietzelt could have on future complaints.

“These (confidentiality) obligations are essential to protect the interests of both the complainant and the publication in the fairness and integrity of the process. Their breach in any particular case adversely affects the confidence with which all other complainants and publications can engage in the Council’s processes,”said the statement. 

Nic Christensen 


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