The Press Council rules The Age and Domain ‘did not take reasonable steps to check the accuracy’ of Toorak mansion story

The Press Council has ruled Domain and The Age did not take reasonable steps to prove the legitimacy of a source which said a Toorak mansion was to be privately sold for a record-breaking $52m.

The story has since been taken down from both Domain, where it originally ran, and The Age, where it was reprinted.

The Press Council has ruled The Age and Domain breached three of the guidelines in reporting an alleged Toorak mansion sale

The story reported that the home was in the process of being sold by the Ebeyan family via a private sale. Gary Ebeyan lodged a complaint with The Press Council stating that this was incorrect, and that the family still retained ownership of the home, and claiming that printing the name of the sellers breached their privacy.

According to the original reporting, Domain had received several tip-offs that the property in Toorak had sold, with three separate real estate agents allegedly telling the publication that the home had changed hands in a private sale. The reporter had tried to verify the claims with documentary evidence, alleges Domain, but was unsuccessful. The publication claimed it was rare to be able to acquire documents until the sale is completed.

The language used in the story and the headline made it clear that the sale had not settled, that the exact price of the sale was unknown, and that the story had been acquired via word of mouth, Domain said, but publishing an expected sale price is not uncommon practice. The publication did acknowledge an obligation to take reasonable steps to ensure the accuracy of the reporting, which had not been done in this case. It said pro-active steps had been taken to ensure this practice isn’t repeated.

Furthermore, the publication said it had not refused to remove the article, as was alleged by the complainant, but acknowledged a six-day delay had been caused by staff leave and the fact the publication believed it would shortly receive supporting documents. Once the article was removed, a correction and apology was printed and placed online.

The complainant said, however, that because the story was online for so long, and due to its sensational nature, other outlets had already picked it up, resulting in it spreading across the internet. The article, the complainant said, caused him and his family significant distress due to its personal nature and the comments regarding their finances, health and marriage. By publishing their names, the address and the alleged value of the property, which he stated was “severely inflated” the reporting brought “significant unwanted publicity to their property and family, thereby exposing them to danger”.

The Press Council ruled Domain and The Age did not take appropriate steps to confirm the legitimacy of the facts in the story, breaching the Council’s guidelines. The delay to take action after a complaint was lodged was also in breach of the guidelines, and the fact the publication did not take steps to contact the complainant to confirm the sale price, and to avoid unnecessary breaches of privacy, also resulted in the guidelines being breached.

No follow-up action has been advised by The Press Council.


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