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Brisbane Times censured for failure to give right of reply to city councillor over arrest story

Australian Press Council Brisbane TimesThe Brisbane Times has been censured for failing to give a city councillor adequate right of reply in an article about her being arrested for being drunk in a public space.

On the morning of April 13 the Fairfax owned online publication used the headline ‘Councillor Nicole Johnston charged with being drunk in a public place’, referring to an incident in which the councillor was “charged with being drunk in a public place” and referred to the councillor being “ejected from the council chamber 39 times since 2010” for “inappropriate behaviour”.

The article also said the police had been called to “forcibly remove her” from the chamber a number of times.

The complaint raised by Cr Johnston said the statement that she had been “forcibly removed” from Council chambers had been misleading. Johnston said said had been asked to leave in accordance with Council regulations.

Johnston also told the APC that no-one from the Brisbane Times had contacted her before the article appeared.

She said that after the first version of the article, she had contacted the publication to correct the statements about her however a follow-up report repeated the assertion that she was refused entry to a bar.

Johnston told the press council it was untrue and unfair to state that “Cr Johnston declined to comment” when she had specifically told the reporter that part of the information they had published was incorrect.

Johnston said the publication did not meet her subsequent requests to have the article altered and for an apology.

The Brisbane Times, owned by Fairfax Media, defended the article, telling the press council that Johnston’s objection to the use of the term “forcibly” was a matter of semantics.

The newspaper said the statement was fair given that police had been called numerous times to the Council chambers after the Chair had directed her to leave and she had refused. The paper did remove the word “forcibly” after being contacted by Johnston.

The publication said that the article was published in good faith based on the information provided by police sources at that time.  It said after further checking with police, it emerged that the arrest was at a taxi rank, and not outside a bar, and that aspect was corrected in a revised version at 9.47am.

The publication also said that it published a response by the complainant on the matter in a further revised version at 11.03am.

While the paper did publish a response by the complainant, it was the Press Council’s view that the failure to give that opportunity when the original story was published at 8.01am on the morning of April 13 was unreasonable and compounded by the statement in the revised article at 9.47am that Johnston had declined to comment.

The Council concludes that the publication failed to ensure reasonable fairness and had failed to give a fair opportunity for a reply.

While the Council concluded the reference to Cr Johnston being “forcibly” removed was not necessarily inaccurate, it was the council’s view that it unfairly suggested a pattern of behaviour linked to the statements about the circumstances of her arrest.

Miranda Ward

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