Courier Mail misled readers about writer’s qualifications, finds Press Council

The Courier Mail has been wrist-slapped by the Australian Press Council (APC) over a series of “independent analysis” pieces into Presbyterian and Methodist Schools Association (PMSA) schools.

Five articles were published in the Courier Mail in February based on an “independent analysis” undertaken by a “forensic accountant” which claimed, amongst other things, that Clayfield College “was on the bring of collapse”, the PSMA had “mismanaged funds” and students had also seen a drop in their Year 12 academic OP (overall positions) scores.

The articles were titled: ‘College on the brink’ in print and ‘Elite school Clayfield College in shock debt crisis’ online, ‘Clayfield College being used as a political football, claims parent’, ‘Clayfield College’s big drop in top OP scores revealed’, ‘PMSA scandal: Elite schools’ damning fall from grace’ and ‘Bath boss’ six figure payout’ in print and ‘PMSA schools scandal: Rick Hiley to get six-figure payout’ online.

The press watchdog claims The Courier Mail misled its readers because the author was not qualified to be labelled as a “forensic accountant” and the title of the report writer gave the article a level of credibility which wouldn’t be associated with the author’s actual qualifications.

Once the PSMA reached out to The Courier Mail with its concerns, the publication changed the author’s title to “finance and corporate governance specialist” rather than the initial “forensic accountant” title.

The complainant said by giving the report writer such a lofty title, it appeared to give claims of PMSA’s ‘financial mismanagement’ legitimacy, when the credibility and legitimacy of the report was questionable. In addition, the report led to further negative coverage.

Upholding the complaint, the APC said despite the author’s financial training and experience he isn’t actually a forensic accountant and doesn’t have accountancy qualifications to make the claims published in the articles.

“The qualification of ‘forensic accountant’ attributed to the report writer gave the claims in the report a level of credibility that would not be associated with the qualifications of the report writer,” the APC said upholding the complaint.

The Press Council found principle one (“ensure that factual material in news reports and elsewhere is accurate and not misleading, and is distinguishable from other material such as opinion) and principle three (“ensure that factual material is presented with reasonable fairness and balance, and that writers’ expressions of opinion are not based on significantly inaccurate factual material or omission of key facts”) had been breached.


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