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Herald Sun censured by press watchdog for saying dole claimants ‘milking the taxpayer’

The Herald Sun breached press standards by stating that dole recipients were “milking the tax payer”, the journalism watchdog has ruled.

According to an adjudication published today by the Australian Press Council, the statement breached rules on accuracy and fairness.

The article was written by The Daily Telegraph’s national political reporter Daniel Meers and ran across a number of News Corp titles including the Herald Sun in Melbourne and Daily Telegraph in Sydney, on July 6 last year. Today’s ruling focuses on the Herald Sun’s treatment of the article because the investigation was triggered by a reader of that masthead.

tele tax payers milked

At the time of posting, the article is still live on The Tele’s website

According to the APC report on the Herald Sun’s treatment of the story, the newspaper defended the terminology, saying it was in keeping with language used by then social services minister Scott Morrison.   

The APC report stated: “The publication said the story was a factual report of those statistics. It said the term ‘milking the taxpayer’ was consistent with terminology used by the Government to describe its objectives and approach on welfare reform.”

“The publication referred to other articles in which the Minister reportedly used stronger language in relation to welfare reform, such as ‘rorting’ and ‘gaming’ the system, in reference to welfare recipients. It said the term ‘milking’ had various meanings, including ‘extract’ the expression ‘milking the system’ was not inaccurate or misleading of itself, and was a fair and suitable one as it reflected the tenor of the Government’s position on reforms.”

APCHowever, the APC ruled: “The Press Council considers that the first sentence in the article clearly refers to all of the 70 percent of long term unemployed in suggesting recipients are ‘milking the taxpayer’, and the term ‘milking’ clearly had a pejorative sense. No basis for that factual statement was identified elsewhere in the article.”

It added: “The Council notes that a claim that all 70 percent of such recipients were ‘milking the taxpayer’ was not attributed to any government minister. To the extent the reference may have been an opinion of the journalist, the Council notes no facts were presented to support that opinion nor did the article include any balancing explanatory comment.

Asked why the adjudication had addressed the Herald Sun’s coverage of the news article but not The Tele’s, an APC spokesman told Mumbrella: “The Herald Sun article was syndicated, with some alterations, from an article originally published in the Daily Telegraph. The Council’s complaints process is initiated upon a receipt of a complaint against a particular publication and in this case the Council received a complaint about the Herald Sun article, but not the Daily Telegraph article. Where the Council receives a complaint about more than one syndicated article it will take action in relation to all such complaints.”

The APC is the industry journalism standards body funded by Australia’s major publishers.

Tim Burrowes

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