Daily Telegraph rapped by Press Council over disability allowance front page

Screen Shot 2014-12-12 at 9.33.29 AMThe Daily Telegraph has been rapped by the Press Council over a front page story which unfavourably compared those claiming disability allowance with Australia’s war heroes.

The watchdog said the implication that people receiving the Disability Support Pension (DSP) were bludgers, compared with the bravery of injured soldiers, was offensive, unfair and inaccurate.

Above the headline, ‘Slackers and Slouch Hats’, which appeared in May this year, the newspaper carried two photographs, one showing a queue of people with the strap ‘NSW DSP recipients: 270,415’, and another showing a wounded soldier with the words ‘Nation’s war wounded: 226,016’.

A secondary headline read: “NSW Disability Support Pensioners now outnumber Australia’s total war wounded by more than 44,000”.

The story sparked a wave of complaints, including to the Press Council, with then Disability Commissioner Graham Innes branding it a “low” in Australian journalism.

Media Watch also revealed the photo of the queue was not DSP claimants or even Australians, but Swedish students at the University of Orebro.

The Telegraph defended its front page, saying it did not suggest all DSP recipients are “slackers” or undeserving of assistance, and argued that its editorial made it clear that not all recipients were undeserving.

It said the comparison between DSP recipients and the numbers of war-wounded was valid and fair and a way of stimulating public debate.

The publication also said the photograph of a queue was intended merely to show a large number of people and it had not suggested they had disabilities or were DSP recipients.

But the Press Council ruled the front page material collectively implied that a high proportion of DSP recipients are “slackers” and should not be receiving DSP.

It said the prominently displayed words on the photographs and the stark contrast between the apparently able-bodied people in the queue and the severely wounded soldier led to the implication.

The Council added that the implications of the front page were not adequately dispelled by any of the material that appeared on inside pages and concluded that the Telegraph breached the Standards of Practice.

The Council also said the implication that a high proportion of DSP recipients are “slackers” and should not be receiving DSP was offensive to an extent not justified by the public interest.

Steve Jones


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