Former Labor leader Mark Latham has won a finding against the Sunday Telegraph after the newspaper reported he intimidated an elderly swimming teacher.
The Australian Press Council has upheld his complaint that his children’s privacy was breached, and that the newspaper should have declared a conflict of interest over the fact that one of the swimming teachers at the pool on the day was the mother of journalist Jennifer Sexton, who wrote the story.
Sexton’s report, published on December 11, stated:
“MARK Latham has been reported to the Department of Education for intimidating the mother of former star cricketers Steve and Mark Waugh over a children’s swimming class.
“The 50-year-old former Labor leader angrily claimed his two children had learned nothing after less than half an hour in the pool at the free government swim program that Bev Waugh was running.
“Witnesses told The Sunday Telegraph that Mrs Waugh, 65, was shocked when Mr Latham approached her from behind as she was teaching at the pool edge.
“‘What actually are you teaching?’ he demanded.”
Latham complained to the APC about the article, and a follow-up item a week later.
According to the APC: “Mr Latham complained that, as the reporter was the daughter of one of the other swim school teachers, she had a conflict of interest which should have been disclosed in the articles.”
The APC stated:
“The Council has concluded that the reporter’s relationship with the supervisor should have been disclosed in her articles…The Council emphasises that in accordance with generally-recognised principles a conflict of interest exists where there is a reasonable possibility that the conflict will affect a reporter’s impartiality, irrespective of whether it actually does so. Accordingly, this aspect of the complaint is upheld.”
The APC also reported: “Mr Latham also complained that the articles breached the privacy of his family, especially his children while engaged in an educational program, without any justification in the public interest.”
The APC concluded:
“The Council has concluded that Mr Latham’s alleged conduct at the pool was not of sufficient importance in the public interest as to justify seriously intruding on the privacy of his young children in the manner caused by these articles… Accordingly, this aspect of the complaint is upheld on the ground of unreasonable intrusion on the children’s privacy.”
The Sunday Telegraph had argued that its reporting was justified because Latham remains a high profile figure. On the question of Sexton’s mother being a swimming instructor, editor Neil Breen previously told Crikey: ”She does. So what? That’s how we find out stories… the man is unhinged.”
Latham gave his version of events in The Spectator, writing:
“Thereafter, the standard tabloid methodology applied. Three days later, as my children and I left the pool, Jennifer Sexton, a journalist from the Sunday Telegraph, was standing at the rear of our car wanting to interview me about the ‘incident’. One of her colleagues, a photographer, was hiding nearby in the Woolworths car park, snapping away. I told Sexton it was none of her business and drove off. As I did, my eldest son Oliver observed, most astutely, that ‘That lady just said her name was Sexton. One of our swimming teachers is Mrs Sexton.’ Subsequently we found out she was, in fact, the reporter’s mother.
“The younger Sexton’s article was premeditated, depicting me as an ogre who ‘intimidated’ a little old lady. To write it any other way would have been to betray the tabloid template of selling sensationalised stories to the public.”
The APC is the self-regulation body of the Australian press. It does not currently have power to punish newspapers that breach its code beyond publishing its rulings against them.