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The Australian Press Council has considered a complaint about an article headed Media behind the lines in The Courier-Mail, Brisbane, on 3 September 2011. The article included descriptions of the complaints-handling systems of the Press Council and of the journalists' union, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA).
Alan Corbett complained that the article misrepresented the MEAA system by stating that its complaints panel comprised "industry experts and independent members". He pointed out that the "industry experts" were all journalist members of the MEAA and said the article misleadingly implied the panel would be independent, yet it would have a majority of journalist members hearing a complaint about another journalist member.
The newspaper responded that "industry expert" was used solely to avoid repetition of the word "journalist", and that readers would be aware that the relevant industry experts were journalists. It said, however, that after hearing Mr Corbett’s concerns it had counselled the reporter about the need to avoid ambiguity.
The Council concluded that the description of panel membership was not entirely clear and accurate but the ambiguities were not of sufficient gravity to justify upholding the complaint.
Note (not required for publication by the newspaper):
In the interests of transparency, it should be noted that the MEAA has asked the Press Council to consider taking over responsibility for adjudicating complaints under the union’s Code of Ethics.
Relevant Council Standards (not required for publication by the newspaper):
This adjudication applies the Council’s General Principle 1: "Publications should take reasonable steps to ensure reports are accurate, fair and balanced. They should not deliberately mislead or misinform readers either by omission or commission" and General Principle 3: "Where individuals or groups are a major focus of news reports or commentary, the publication should ensure fairness and balance in the original article. Failing that, it should provide a reasonable and swift opportunity for a balancing response in an appropriate section of the publication."