The Australian says it will boycott Australian Press Council decisions by new member Carla McGrath

News Corp’s The Australian has said it will boycott all decisions and adjudications of complaints in which the Australian Press Council’s newest member, Carla McGrath, is involved.

McGrath is currently deputy chairwoman of GetUp – a left-leaning political activist group – and was appointed by the APC as a member one week ago.

According to reports by The Australian, McGrath has previously raised funds to campaign against News Corp Australia publications and made fun of major newspapers’ election coverage.

The APC appointed McGrath in an attempt to better reflect ‘diversity’ within the community.

At the time of her appointment, David Weisbrot, Australian Press Council chair said McGrath had“shone through the selection process”.

“She was chosen for her outstanding personal qualities and qualifications—she was the right person for the job,” he said.

The Australian’s editor in chief, Paul Whittaker,  however, said the APC’s decision to appoint McGrath made a “mockery” of its role as an independent adjudicator.

“GetUp is effectively another wing of the Labor Party and the Greens,’’ he said.

“GetUp’s deputy chair Ms McGrath will be sitting in judgment at the Press Council on complaints over contentious newspaper stories about important matters in the public interest such as mining, climate change, immigration and asylum-seekers — all issues of which the organisation she represents has aggressively campaigned on from a Green-left position.

“The Australian will not accept any adjudication finding that the GetUp! deputy chair has participated in, as we have a reasonable apprehension of bias given the organisation’s strident political activism, including its campaigns against News Corp publications,” he said.

“It is very disappointing and deeply concerning that APC chairman Professor David Weisbrot has endorsed this appointment. The Press Council should not be a political stack.”

It is not yet clear what the boycott means for The Australian’s membership with the industry body or how the boycott will actually play out.

The Australian Press Council responded, noting Weisbrot had specifically flagged to issue of perceived or actual conflicts of interests.

“Public Members of the Australian Press Council are appointed and sit on the Council as individuals, not as representatives of any particular organisation or employer they may be associated with,” the statement said.

“The sort of people that are likely to be appointed as Public Members will probably have been active in their professions and in their communities, so there is always the potential for a real or perceived conflict of interest to arise.


“Every Member of the Press Council is aware of their duties to disclose potential conflicts of interest and the Press Council has a long history of successfully – and conservatively – managing these conflicts to avoid any suggestion of bias.

“In the case of Carla McGrath, Australian Press Council Chair Professor David Weisbrot specifically flagged the issue of perceived or actual conflicts of interest as a result of her multiple Board and leadership roles and her long history of community engagement and advocacy on a range of issues, including Indigenous and youth affairs.

“The issue was canvassed at length at the May meeting of Council. Following that discussion, the overwhelming majority of the Council Members was satisfied that any potential conflicts of interest could be successfully managed, and Ms McGrath’s appointment was made.

“In the normal course of events, a new Public Member of the Press Council would not be rostered to sit on an adjudication panel for a period of at least six to 12 months. It is not anticipated that Ms McGrath will be assigned to adjudicate complaints until early to mid-2018, and all such assignments take into account potential conflict of interest issues.

“It is worth noting that adjudication panels are made up of five to seven members, including the Chair or a Vice-Chair, and an even balance of public members and independent journalists.  Publisher Members of Council do not sit on these panels.”

The latest boycott isn’t the first time The Australian has fought against the APC.

In 2015, former editor-in-chief, Chris Mitchell, vowed to remove his newspaper from what he described as the “activism” of The Australian Press Council, urging publishers to “reconstruct” the online and print watchdog.

The Australian is also not the first publication to question the relevance of the APC, with The Guardian arguing its own self-regulation is “adequate and proportionate”, after the watchdog opened itself up to overseas online and international players, including Daily Mail Australia, BuzzFeed and the Huffington Post.


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