The Australian’s editor vows to keep up pressure on Press Council despite warning campaign risks future of self regulation

Chris Mitchell

Chris Mitchell

The editor-in-chief of The Australian has vowed to continue a “deliberate campaign” questioning the oversight of the Australian Press Council despite a claim by the watchdog that the situation may  undermine press self regulation.

For the second week in a row, The Weekend Australian featured articles about confidential cases currently before the APC and carried editorials criticising the body. The move by the News Corp-owned paper has been critcised by the APC’s executive director John Pender.

In a statement this afternoon, Pender warned: “Both The Weekend Australian and The Australian concede they have breached agreed obligations to maintain confidentiality of aspects of the Council’s complaint processes.

“Repeated breaches of these obligations, and misrepresentations of the Council’s work, can severely compromise its credibility as a preferable alternative to a statutory regulator, which currently applies to radio and television.”

But The Australian’s editor Chris Mitchell this afternoon told Mumbrella: “I did not stumble upon this issue by accident. This is a deliberate campaign to force the council to recognise it is straying into areas in which it traditionally would never have strayed.”

Referring to chairman Julian Disney’s decision to step down as chair of the APC in January, Mitchell added: “We will be continuing, and indeed stepping up,  this campaign and do not see Disney’s departure as a catalyst for change.

“Quite the reverse, we see it as a deadline by which he means to have brought down a whole series of precedent judgements, like last week’s against the SMH, that will set the tone for years to come. I do not intend to let that happen and many editors have privately offered support.”

Last week the APC partly upheld a complaint against he Sydney Morning Herald over its reporting on the death of Kate Malonyay and subsequently her partner Elliott Coulson. The APC ruled the paper had breached the family’s privacy by covering material gathered at the funeral, despite not having the permission of the family to do so.

Page 2 of The Weekend Australian

Page 2 of The Weekend Australian

In The Weekend Australian on Saturday, the whole of page two was dedicated to coverage of the APC, including a complaint lodged by a murder suspect against News Corp’s Herald Sun newspaper in Melbourne and a complaint against The Australian over a front page photograph of a seven-year-old son of Islamic State terrorist Khaled Sharrouf, apparently holding a severed head of an Iraqi. There were also accompanying opinion pieces and an editorial criticising the APC and Disney.

This latest stoush between the two side comes just a week after The Australian first denounced  the APC and Disney, claiming he has a conflict of interest in a complaint currently before the regulator because he once spoke at the same function as the subject of the complaint.

Disney has denied there is any conflict.

Asked to comment this morning about whether News Corp still supported the APC, a spokesman directed Mumbrella to its comment from last week where it said: “News Corp Australia has made commitments to its funding and membership of The Australian Press Council and those commitments remain in place.”

(Declaration of interest: Mumbrella is also a member of the APC.)

Nic Christensen


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