The Australian columnist Sheridan found guilty of unfair language to describe asylum seekers

Australia’s journalism watchdog has upheld a complaint against The Australian’s columnist Greg Sheridan over his use of the term “illegals” to describe asylum seekers arriving in the country by boat. The newspaper also has a further complaint upheld that Sheridan had misrepresented a parliamentary hearing on the issue.  

Although the APC has not published the finding on its own website at the time of posting, The Australian has published the adjudication today.

According to the APC, the complaints related to three opinion pieces written by Sheridan – a former foreign editor of the newspaper – late last year and earlier this year. The adjudication states: “In all three articles, there are frequent references to refugees arriving in Australia by boat as ‘illegal immigrants’ and ‘illegals’, and use of the expression ‘illegal immigration’ in respect of their arrival in Australia.”

APC guidelines state: “The descriptor “illegal(s) is very often inaccurate and, because it typically connotes criminality, it is unfair.” The APC recommends journalists use the term “asylum seeker”.

It ruled: “The council acknowledges that some politicians, and others in public life, use the term ‘illegal(s)’, and that this can create difficulties for the press in reporting these matters. However, the fact that some people may use what may be considered inaccurate terminology should not be used to justify inaccuracy or unfairness in reporting.”

On the inaccuracy complaint, the APC ruled: “The term ‘illegal immigrants’ was not used by politicians or officials participating in the Senate proceedings reported in the March 5 article. The tone and wording of the article strongly suggests otherwise. Accordingly, the separate complaint about misrepresentation in this article is upheld.”

It is the second time in less than two years that the APC has made a similar ruling against The Australian.



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