Brisbane Times criticised by press watchdog for ‘misleading’ Brisbane City Council bullying story

Brisbane Times has been censured by the Press Council for failing to take reasonable steps to ensure it was accurate and not misleading in a headline about Angela Owen, Brisbane City Council’s chairman.

The complaint centres around an article published March 2018, which was originally headed “Council chairman accused of being abusive and being biased”, then later amended to “Council chairman accused of bullying and bias” and then to “Council chairman accused of allowing bullying and being biased”.

The complainant said that upon publication of the article, the City Council’s media unit contacted the publication seeking amendment of the headline. Several minutes later, the headline was amended to “Council chairman accused of bullying and bias”. The complainant said that a few minutes later the City Council’s media unit again contacted the publication to complain about the amended headline and then emailed the publication explicitly denying the claims.

The complainant said the article was later republished to include a paragraph noting that the complainant “said the bullying and bias claims were false” and quoted the complainant saying “I vehemently reject this claim”.

It said that it did not accept that the original headline was wrong and said that abuse of power is a form of bullying and that it had revised the headline only for clarity.

The publication said it took reasonable steps to ensure that factual material was accurate and not misleading and presented with fairness and balance. This included contacting the City Council media unit prior to publication for comment.

However The Press Council argued that neither the article nor any material put forward by the publication during the Press Council’s complaints process supported the statement that Owen was abusive and a bully.

It ruled the the publication failed to take reasonable steps to ensure factual material was accurate and not misleading, and failed to present the material with reasonable fairness and balance.

The Press Council also noted that it took “six hours after initial request for the headline to be revised to remove the statement that the complainant had been accused of being a bully. The Press Council considers that a revision could and should have been made earlier.”

The length of time it took for the publication to revise the title meant it was in breach of The Press Council’s general principle two, that: ‘publications must take reasonable steps to provide adequate remedial action.’

Nine declined to comment on the ruling.


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