Press watchdog rules The Age misrepresented Tony Abbott’s Holden comments

TheAgeThe Press Council has ruled than an opinion piece in The Age on the state of Australia’s car manufacturing industry contained a “substantial misrepresentation” of remarks by Prime Minster Tony Abbott.

The media watchdog, who declined to reveal who lodged the complaint, concluded that the interpretation by writer John Legge of Abbott’s comments did not accurately reflect what he had said.

The article, headlined “Auto report is a fantasy with a tragic twist”, and which appeared in February, discussed the PM’s reaction to Holden workers losing their job.

“Abbott….said they should be grateful they were liberated from slaving on an assembly line, moving to living off Newstart and Work for the Dole,” the opinion piece read. “If this sort of liberation will suit Holden workers on $60,000 per year including overtime, how much more delightful it should be for Productivity Commission analysts on three times that. It can’t happen soon enough.”

The Press Council determined that by using the word “said”, the writer’s description of Abbott’s comments “must either be an accurate quote or a reasonably accurate paraphrase.”

According to a transcript obtained by the watchdog, Abbott said: “Now, some of the Mitsubishi workers have struggled to find work, others have had, I suppose, almost a rebirth of their working lives and I dare say, it will be same for the people currently at Ford and Holden when manufacturing stops.

“Some of them will find it difficult, but many of them will probably be liberated to pursue new opportunities and to get on with their lives …. I’m confident that the majority of these workers will be able to adapt although I don’t for a second underestimate that for many of them there will be some difficult times too.”

Defending the article, The Age said the article was presented as discussion and not portrayed as a verbatim report of the PM’s comments and therefore “did not misrepresent those comments”.

But the Press Council disagreed, and highlighted that Abbott had not used the word “grateful” or referred to Newstart or Work for the Dole.

“The Council has concluded that the description of what Mr Abbott said was a substantial misrepresentation. The transcript shows he drew a distinction between workers who would find it difficult and those who would pursue new opportunities,” it said in its ruling.

“Accordingly the Council has concluded that the publication breached the Principle concerning misrepresentation of facts in an opinion article.”

The PM’s office denied it had lodged the complaint with the Press Council.

Steve Jones


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