Press Council clears The Australian of causing distress or prejudice in Medicare fraud story

A feature article investigating fake Medicare claims which made reference to a Vietnamese refugee and his conviction for fraud, has been cleared by The Australian Press Council.

The Australian’s print article ‘Sick system open to abuse: Fake Medicare claims have led to payouts worth millions’ and ‘Medicare: Sick system open to abuse’ online, explored the cracks and flaws in Medicare which allowed for fraudulent claims to be made.

Published on March 6, the article began with the story of Hung Dien Phan, a man who arrived in Australia as a refugee in 1979 before getting a medical degree from Monash University.

The council asked The Australian to provide comment as to whether the man’s refugee status and ethnicity was presented with fairness and balance, and avoided causing offence, distress or prejudice.

News Corp’s national newspaper pointed out the man’s refugee status, ethnicity, conviction and sentence for fraud were a matter of public record, and could be found in the Victorian Court of Appeal judgment.

It argued the article did not suggest the man’s refugee status or ethnicity had anything to do with his fake Medicare claims, and the story had been highlighted due to the large amount of money involved, and the fact the case went undetected for seven years.

After consideration, The Press Council agreed the personal information was not presented in an unfair or unbalanced way, and noted it was routine to commence a complex feature article with background information on a subject – Phan in this case.

The Council also considered the references might cause offence or distress to people of Vietnamese origin and refugees, by characterising them in a negative way.

However it said the potential distress caused was not substantial, given the personal information was a matter of public record, and only one reference to the man’s refugee status and ethnicity was made in the article.

But it warned: “Had the article continued to focus on the man’s ethnicity and refugee status, the Council considered that it could have caused substantial offence, distress or prejudice.”

The Council dismissed the complaint.


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