Julian Disney accuses News Corp of ‘misrepresentations’ in Press Council coverage



The recently departed head of the press watchdog has fired a parting shot at News Corp accusing The Australian of refusing to co-operate with investigations and making “extravagant criticisms” of the Australian Press Council.

In his final chair’s forward in the Australian Press Council’s annual report for 2013-14 Professor Julian Disney addressed the wider issues of freedom of speech and freedom of the press, but urged “powerful publications” not to abuse their freedom of speech by damaging or destroying other people’s freedom of speech.

On that issue he wrote: “They should not repeatedly abuse or intimidate a person with whose views they disagree, nor repeatedly publish letters and comments that have that purpose or effect.

“Publications also should not diminish true freedom of speech in the community by breaching without good cause the confidentiality of people who wish to exercise their freedom of speech in private, not in public.

“They should not publish seriously false or misleading information on the basis of which some readers, in exercising their own freedom of speech, unwittingly express views they would not have expressed if they had been accurately informed. A publication that engages repeatedly and flagrantly in practices of these kinds cannot credibly claim to be a supporter of free speech, except perhaps for people with whom it agrees or from whom it seeks support.”

Last year News Corp publication The Australian staged a campaign questioning the oversight of the APC, placing pressure on Disney to withdraw from adjudications of complaints against News Corp papers. He stepped down from the post in February after giving notice of his intent to do so 12 months earlier.

Referencing News Corp more specifically, Disney said: Australian Press Council“It is also necessary to mention, however, that serious misrepresentations of Council adjudications or other processes have appeared prominently in several of its major publications in recent years, sometimes accompanied by extravagant criticism.”

“On occasion, the Council has sought to correct the record by a published letter to the editor. But this approach rarely achieves adequate rectification of prominent misrepresentations, especially if the publication then repeats them rather than acknowledging them,” Disney wrote.

Disney also cited the APC’s earlier history with the publisher, writing: “At a very early stage in the Council’s history, for example, News Limited withdrew from it for a number of years after an adverse adjudication about election coverage.

“On another occasion, its national newspaper [The Australian] refused to cooperate with the Council’s complaints work for several months in protest about the handling of a particular adjudication. The recent incidents have rekindled concerns about the depth of commitment to a genuinely independent and effective Council,” he wrote.

Coverage of the APC by News Corp titles such as The Australian suggested Disney was in conflict on adjudications relating to the title, with the paper also covering confidential cases before the APC, against its rules of conduct.

In 2013-14 News Corp was the biggest financial contributor to the APC with the report stating it paid between 31 to 60 per cent of contributions, while rival Fairfax Media was second making up between 11-30 per cent of revenues.

University of Sydney professor David Weisbrot has taken over the chair position from Disney and since taking the role has vowed to try and “reset” its relationship with News Corp.

Miranda Ward

Declaration of Interest: Mumbrella is a member of the Australian Press Council 


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