Press Council records ‘considerable concern’ over climate change story handling in The Australian

APCThe Australian Press Council (APC) has taken the unusual step of issuing “an expression of considerable concern on its findings” in a ruling against an article and editorial about climate change in The Australian, whilst an article linking a politician to a brothel in the Sydney Morning Herald has also been censured.

In the ruling which was made public today the APC upheld complaints over an article and editorial in The Australian over incorrect reporting on the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report published in September last year.

The council expressed concerns over what it argues were delays in the acknowledgement of error and expressions of regret with the Council ruling: “They should have been made very much earlier, and made directly to the publication’s readers in a frank and specific manner.”

Today The Sydney Morning Herald also published a ruling after the APC found it “inaccurately and unfairly” linked then treasurer Chris Bowen with Fairfield Mayor Frank Carbone, who was landlord of a business which on certain occasions had been found to be illegally offering sexual services, in a report published just before last year’s federal election.

Asked about the ruling against The Australian and its direct language the new executive director of the APC John Pender told Mumbrella: “The Adjudication Panel based its unusual expression of considerable concern on its findings that the initial error was very serious and prominent, was repeated unequivocally in a later editorial, and was not corrected with sufficient speed, clarity and prominence.” 

The APC rulings, published today on pages 2 and 8 of the newspaper, were in relation to an article entitled “We got it wrong on warming, says IPCC,” run on pages 1 and 6 on September 16 last year, which had been based on a report in the UK newspaper the Mail on Sunday and reported that the IPCC was drastically overestimating rising temperatures, and over the past 60 years the world has in fact been warming at half the rate claimed in a previous 2007 report.

The newspaper the next day ran an editorial entitled: “The warm hard facts — Climate change should always be about the science”, which cited their news story and accused a number of high profile people and organisations of alarmism and inaccurate reporting on climate change.

The report and editorial was quickly challenged as incorrect by readers in the letters page with the newspaper issuing a clarification four days later, which ran on page 2.

A number of complainants to the APC argued that the clarification and correction did not have the same prominence as the original front page report.

The APC found that the erroneous report on a revised warming rate was “very serious” and ruled: “The gravity of the erroneous claim, and its repetition without qualification in the editorial, required a correction which was more substantial, and much more prominent, than a single paragraph in the lower half of page 2.”

It also found: “The Council welcomes the acknowledgements of error and expressions of regret which the publication eventually made to it. But they should have been made very much earlier, and made directly to the publication’s readers in a frank and specific manner. It is a matter of considerable concern that this approach was not adopted.”

It is unusual for the APC to make a statement of “considerable concern”. At the time of publishing editor-in-chief of The Australian Chris Mitchell had not responded to a request for comment.

In the case of the ruling against the Sydney Morning Herald the findings, published on page 2 and page 32 (in the arts and entertainment section of the newspaper), record that the Council ruled a description of Carbone as “Treasurer Bowen’s lieutenant” in the headline and “a key local lieutenant of Treasurer Chris Bowen” in the first paragraph, a central premise of the report, were both inaccurate and unfair as the mayor’s only involvement in the campaign appeared to be an intention to distribute how-to-vote cards on election day.

The APC also admonished the publication for not taking sufficient steps to ensure fairness to Carbone when stating in the headline that “Treasurer Chris Bowen’s lieutenant was the landlord at an illegal brothel” arguing it implied at least knowledge and acceptance of brothel operations, something the mayor has maintained he did not have.

Fairfax declined to comment on the ruling.

Nic Christensen  


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.