Press Council clears Daily Telegraph over pill testing reporting

News Corp’s The Daily Telegraph has been cleared for its reporting over the pill testing debate.

Dr Stephen Bright complained about an article and editorial which claimed he, along with other experts, “have been accused of skewing statistics to support their views”.

The front page which was the subject of the complaint

The Daily Telegraph’s editorial also reported Dr Bright had said “MDMA itself is not a particularly harmful drug”, which the newspapers said the “families of those six dead Australians may take issue with”.

The articles from July 2019 were reporting on an inquest into the death of six Australians at music festivals.

In assessing Dr Bright’s complaints, the Australian Press Council noted that it was legitimate journalistic practice to comment on public submissions. It considered the article was a reasonably accurate summary of a report which suggested that experts who support pill testing, including Dr Bright, could skew data to support their argument.

The ruling noted that while Dr Bright was singled out, it mentioned he was one of a number of experts doing so, and thus the publication had not breached standards around accuracy and clarity.

Accuracy and clarity principle one says press outlets must “ensure that factual material in news reports and elsewhere is accurate and not misleading, and is distinguishable from other material such as opinion”. The second principle, which was also not breached, says they must “provide a correction or other adequate remedial action if published material is significantly accurate or misleading”.

The paper was also cleared on the fairness and balance measures, as the Press Council deemed it had shown both sides of the pill testing debate, and had taken reasonable steps to present factual material with reasonable fairness and balance.

In addition, as the article was based on material considered by the Coroner as part of the coronial process, the Press Council deemed the paper did not need to further reach out to Dr Bright for comment.

Fairness and balance general principle three says publications must “ensure that factual material is presented with reasonable fairness and balance, and that writers’ expressions of opinion are not based on significantly inaccurate factual material or omission of key facts”.

The fourth requires they “ensure that where material refers adversely to a person, a fair opportunity is given for subsequent publication of a reply is that is reasonably necessary to address a possible breach of general principle three”.


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