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The Australian Press Council has considered a complaint about the coverage by The Daily Telegraph in Sydney of Lord Mayor Clover Moore, especially in relation to her introduction of cycle lanes in the city and the fact that she is a State MP as well as Lord Mayor.
Stephen Pate based his complaint on 17 articles during 2011 (some originally published in The Sunday Telegraph and then posted on The Daily Telegraph website), which he said collectively provided unfair and unbalanced coverage of these two issues. He cited a number of headlines, including More cycleway madness in CBD thanks to Lord Mayor Clover Moore (20 June), Lord Mayor Clover Moore doesn't give two hoots about clash of two hats (17 December) and Clover Moore wanted feedback on her bike paths disaster - we can tell her now: TEAR THEM UP (23 December).
He also cited specific phrases including "Ms Moore's war against cars", "the most prominent double-dipping MP", and "Clover Moore's crazy council policies", and words describing Ms Moore's activities and attitudes such as "junket", "jaunt" and a "diva-like list of demands". He complained also that the adverse coverage was not balanced by giving Ms Moore an adequate opportunity to respond.
The newspaper said the cycle lane issue was a matter of public interest and some of the headlines reflected the views which were reported in the accompanying articles. It agreed that it was campaigning against Ms Moore’s actions on both issues but said it was entitled to do so. It pointed out that during the period in question the State Government set up a committee to address the city's transport issues and introduced a Bill to stop MPs also being local councillors.
It said that Ms Moore and her council officers were routinely given the opportunity to provide comments for articles and have had several letters to the editor and opinion pieces published.
The Press Council emphasises that publications are entitled to express strong opinions on issues and to use their editorials and opinion spaces for that purpose. This advocacy can be so vigorous and sustained as to constitute a campaign, provided that it complies with the Council’s principles which, for example, require fact and opinion to be clearly separated and headlines to fairly reflect the tenor of the accompanying article.
The Council has concluded that the headlines mentioned above breached these principles because they expressed the newspaper’s opinions rather than being a summary of facts reported in the accompanying news story. The inclusion in a news story of words such as "crazy council policies", "junket" and "diva-like list of demands" which were not attributed to any sources also failed to separate fact from opinion. Accordingly, the complaint is upheld on these grounds.
The Council considers that these aspects of the headlines and articles also created unfairness and imbalance in the newspaper’s coverage. This impact was counter-acted, however, by the prominent publication of Ms Moore’s views in opinion articles and letters to the editor. This includes two opinion articles which were published after the date of Mr Pate’s complaint but have been taken into account by the Council.
Accordingly, the Council does not consider that the newspaper’s overall coverage has been sufficiently unfair and unbalanced as to constitute a breach of the Council’s principles and, therefore, this aspect of the complaint is not upheld.
Relevant Council standards (not required for publication by the newspaper):
This adjudication applies part of 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", 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" and General Principle 6: "Publications are free to advocate their own views and publish the bylined opinions of others, as long as readers can recognise what is fact and what is opinion. Relevant facts should not be misrepresented or suppressed, headlines ... should fairly reflect the tenor of an article".