SMH rebuked for failing to contact Schapelle Corby’s mum over bidding war story

Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 10.31.47 AMReporters at The Sydney Morning Herald should have done more to contact the mother of Schapelle Corby after the newspaper published a story alleging the Seven Network paid for her flight to Bali to see her daughter, the Press Council has ruled.

Under the headline “Bidding war for Schapelle Corby’s first post-jail interview”, the SMH claimed the family was negotiating with TV networks over the rights to secure the first interview with  the convicted drug smuggler. It added that her mother, Rosleigh Rose, “even allowed the (Seven) network to fly her to Bali”.

Rumours around paid-for interviews with the convicted drug smuggler triggered an unprecedented raid by the Australian Federal Police on Seven’s headquarters in Sydney under proceeds of crime laws, which ultimately ended in the AFP apologising to the network after no evidence of a contract with Corby was discovered.

The SMH story prompted a member of Corby’s support group to email the publication to deny the allegation and telling it to contact Rose. The member also contacted the Press Council.

Rose also told the council she contacted the SMH herself to deny Seven paid for the flight but received no reply.

In its defence, the newspaper said it did not suggest Corby’s mother had done anything wrong and that two independent sources has provided information that Seven paid for the flight. The SMH also claimed the newspaper’s strained relationship with the Corby family had made it difficult to communicate with Rose although it had made several unsuccessful attempts to obtain her contact details.

In addition, the SMH told the watchdog it had no record of a message from Rose and did not reply to the member of the support group because it did not know whether the sender was acting on Rose’ behalf.

In its ruling, the Press Council cleared the SMH of any failure to verify whether the Seven network had paid for the flights as “the council has been unable to ascertain with a sufficient degree of confidence whether the Seven network paid or arranged for Ms Rose’s flight and whether the publication took reasonable steps to check the matter before publication”.

But after being alerted to a possible error, particularly “from a member of a support group known to have close connections to the Corby family”, the newspaper should have made a greater attempt to contact Corby’s mother “so she could have a reasonable opportunity for a balancing response”.

The failure to make sufficient effort to obtain a comment constituted a breach of the Council’s Standards of Practice, the ruling stated.

Fairfax declined to comment.

Steve Jones



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