Herald Sun censured over article claiming public servants were ‘gifted’ a free week off

The Herald Sun has been lambasted by the Australian Press Council for a failing to take reasonable steps to ensure the accuracy around an article alleging public servants were “gifted” a bonus week’s paid holiday between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

The article, which was published on January 13 online under the headline ‘Thousands of public servants got a free week off at Christmas, and critics want to know why’, claimed workers at the Australian Taxation Office, Department of Social Services, Safe Work Australia and Treasury were among the government divisions given three days’ leave on full pay from Wednesday December 28 to Friday December 30, following the Christmas and Boxing Day public holidays.

The News Corp-owned publication told the Press Council its information was obtained from “government sources” and that it had specifically asked all of the government departments named in the article whether they were in effect giving “free” days off.

It told the Press Council it received several responses explaining there were trade-offs in the conditions that allowed this, but that others such as the ATO, Treasury and the Department of Employment made no express mention of trade-offs for the leave.

The Herald Sun defended the article, arguing there is a public interest in the discussion of public servants being granted such leave, which is unavailable to other workers, given private sector trends towards obliging many workers to use annual leave over the Christmas period.

The publication added that it received no request to remedy the article from any of the government divisions, but would have considered any request.

It was the Press Council’s view the article did not contain any evidence substantiating or supporting the article’s statement – which the Council said was presented as a “verified fact”. The article read: “News Corp Australia can reveal workers at the Australian Taxation Office, Department of Social Services, Safe Work Australia and Treasury were among the governments divisions simply given three days’ leave”.

While the Council accepted the Herald Sun obtained its information from government sources and that it had asked the ATO and Treasury whether they were in effect giving “free” days off, and that in their response, they made no explicit mention of trade-offs for the leave, it was the Council’s view the publication needed to make further enquiries to verify this information.

The Council did not consider that the lack of an express denial or the absence of any response amounted to sufficient verification to present the statement as a verified fact.

As a result, the Council considered the Herald Sun did not take reasonable steps to ensure accuracy, fairness and balance, given the unqualified nature of the statement.

The Council ruled the statements that the three days’ leave constituted a full “free week”, a “free paid-up week” or a “bonus week” were inaccurate and unfair.


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