Press Council board rebukes The Australian over attacks on regulator

Screen Shot 2014-09-01 at 11.47.06 amThe Australian has been rebuked in a resolution passed by the board of the Australian Press Council (APC) after a series of articles and leader pieces attacking the regulator in recent weeks.

A statement released by the APC today says the board supports chairman Julian Disney and rejects “misrepresentations” by the broadsheet, adding: “It also deplores the breach by The Australian of obligations of confidentiality during the Council’s complaint processes.”

In recent weeks the APC and Disney in particular have been at the centre of a campaign by The Australian which alleged the chairman had conflicts of interest in certain cases under adjudication and that he was attempting the make the organisation into a press censor. As part of those cases the paper published details of complaints currently under investigation, breaching undertakings of confidentiality.

The resolution was passed by the Council by 19 votes to nil, with one abstention who was believed to be News Corp editorial director Campbell Reid.

In its statement the APC also raised concerns about the treatment of some of its responses and statements to The Australian on the matter, claiming it “edited out a number of key words from concise letters by the Chair and Vice-Chairs” and declined to publish a letter from a former chairman.

It is the most strident statement on the issue so far by the APC on the dispute, with the Australian’s editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell previously rejecting criticisms of his campaign telling Mumbrella earlier this month:  “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.”

A spokesman for News Corp decline to comment, however The Australian’s campaign has also been backed by News Corp Australia CEO Julian Clarke who said that the publisher had concerns about the direction of the press watchdog. 

Two weeks ago Julian Disney stood aside from two adjudications following pressure from News Corp. 

Nic Christensen 

The full Press Council Statement:

The following resolution was passed by the Council at its quarterly meeting in Sydney on 28 August:

“The Press Council reaffirms its confidence in the Chair and rejects the recent misrepresentations made by The Australian about the Chair and the Council. It also deplores the breach by The Australian of obligations of confidentiality during the Council’s complaint processes. The Council will continue to work with News Corp to resolve any legitimate concerns.”

The resolution was passed by 19 votes to nil, with one abstention.


A substantial number of recent misrepresentations by The Australian were identified at the meeting. They included:

incorrectly reporting a number of important aspects of the Council’s General Principles; claiming they have recently become more restrictive about expressions of opinion; and attributing them to the Chair rather than a unanimous vote by the 23 Council members;

incorrectly describing Council adjudications as if they can prohibit or require the publication of any particular material, and as if they are made by the Chair rather than an Adjudication Panel of five or more people;

incorrectly describing particular adjudications as if upholding complaints about matters of opinion; misstating the impact of other adjudications by omitting or distorting key passages; and misrepresenting the Council’s handling of particular complaints;

incorrectly describing the nature of some complaints, the Council’s submission to the Finkelstein Inquiry, and the Council’s attitude towards freedom of speech.

Breaches of confidentiality

A substantial number of breaches of confidentiality by The Australian were also identified at the meeting. They involved publication of details of the handling of complaints while they are still under consideration by the Council.

The breaches included disclosure of the wording of particular complaints and the publication’s responses to them; statements and questions by complainants, publications and Adjudication Panel members in the course of meetings with the Panel; and other communications between the Council and the publication in question. Some of the breaches related to complaints about other News Corp publications and appear to have been made with their consent.

In some instances the disclosure was misleading and in some it unfairly disadvantaged the complainant. The Council’s processes have also been severely disrupted. The Chair and Executive Director were asked to take urgent action aimed at restoring the publications’ compliance with the confidentiality obligations.

Editing of responses

Great concern was also expressed at the meeting about the editing or exclusion of material sent to The Australian which was in support of the Council. Despite the great number and length of articles and editorials which criticised the Council (totalling more than 15,000 words), the newspaper edited out a number of key words from concise letters by the Chair and Vice-Chairs as well as declining to publish the letter from one of the two former Chairs who wrote in support of the Council and an article by a journalist member of the Council.


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