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Telegraph ‘misleading and unfair’ in coverage of Bill Shorten’s union commission evidence, rules press watchdog

The Daily Telegraph misled its readers with coverage of the Dyson Heydon commission into union corruption by wrongly using a large image of Bill Shorten in a way that gave the impression the Labor leader had been condemned rather than exonerated by the report, the press watchdog has ruled.

The article – which the Australian Press Council ruled breached its guidelines on accuracy and fairness – was published on the Sydney newspaper’s Saturday Extra section on January 2.

The double page report was illustrated with large images of Heydon and Shorten.

According to today’s APC ruling: “Below this were two quotes, apparently of findings, which were ‘He was almost always unbelievable. He conveyed an impression of being a phony’; and ‘The advantage of blaming a dead man … dead men tell no tales’.”

However, these were not findings from the report and did not refer to Shorten, who had given evidence to the commission in connection with his previous role as national secretary of the Australian Workers Union.

australian press council

Although Shorten did not complain to the APC about the article, it chose to investigate the Telegraph’s coverage. According to the watchdog: “It said it would be clear to anyone who read the story that the quotes featured in the article were not referring to Mr Shorten and the article itself identified the other men to which each of the quotes referred and included smaller images of them which were not located near Mr Shorten’s image.”

But the APC ruled: “The Council considers that the publication failed to take reasonable steps to ensure the article was not misleading or unfair. Mr Shorten was exonerated by the Royal Commission. The Council considers that the presentation of the article including the sub-headline, the large image of the Royal Commissioner and the screen shot of Mr Shorten giving evidence set out opposite each other, the presentation of the quotes in large font without an indication of who they referred to all combined to convey a misleading and unfair impression that the quoted adverse findings referred to Mr Shorten.”

A summary of the ruling appears on page 35 of today’s Tele.

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