This page provides preliminary information for people who are thinking about complaining to the Australian Press Council about material published by an Australian newspaper, magazine or website. It addresses the following four issues:
> What can be complained about?
> Who can complain?
> When should a complaint be made?
> How should a complaint be made?
For information on what happens after a complaint is made, see Handling of complaints. No fees are charged for using the Council’s complaints process.
What can be complained about?
Types of material
- Complaints may relate to news reports, articles, editorials, letters, cartoons, images and other published material. The Council does not consider complaints about advertising material, except where the complaint is that the material is not clearly identifiable as advertising.
- Where it is more appropriate for a complaint to be dealt with by another organisation, the Council will suggest that the complainant raises the matter with that organisation. This may occur where, for example, the complaint relates to advertising, or to broadcasts on radio or television.
Types of publications
- The Council considers complaints about material published in print or digital form by publishers which are “constituent bodies” of the Council. It can also consider complaints about the methods used by publications to obtain information. Most Australian newspapers and magazines, and their associated websites, are constituent bodies. So are some of the leading digital-only publishers. See the full list here.
- The Council may also consider complaints about material published by other publishers. But, unlike constituent bodies, those publishers are not under a legal obligation to cooperate with the Council or to publish any adjudication by it.
- Complaints are treated by the Council as being against the publication, not any individual journalist or editor. But in most complaints the Council’s consideration is likely to focus on the actions of journalists, editors or other media practitioners.
Who can complain?
- In general, any person may lodge a complaint about published material. They need not necessarily have been identified personally in the material or be directly affected by it.
- Where the complainant is not identified or directly affected, the Council may consult anyone who is directly affected before deciding whether to proceed further with the complaint. This may apply, for example, where a complaint concerns a person’s privacy and consideration of it by the Council might aggravate the breach of privacy.
- Save in exceptional circumstances, the Council will not consider complaints by one publisher against another publisher.
When should a complaint be made?
- A person can complain to the Council
- after having previously complained to the relevant publication; or
- at the same time as a complaint is made to the publication; or
- without having complained to the publication.
- Where a complaint is made directly to the Council, it may decide to
- commence its consideration of the complaint; or
- in some circumstances, ask the complainant to raise the complaint directly with the publication and then come back to the Council if its further involvement is sought.
- Complaints must usually be made within sixty days of the first publication of the relevant material. Where appropriate, the complaint can be made with a request that the Council delays consideration of it until a specified event (eg, recovery from serious illness).
- A longer period than sixty days may be allowed where, for example, it was reasonable for the complainant not to have noticed the material earlier or there were good grounds for delaying submission of a complaint.
- The Council does not require complainants to undertake that they will not commence legal proceedings in relation to the material about which they are complaining. But they must tell the Council if they have done so or intend to do so.
- If legal proceedings are under way, the Council usually will delay consideration of a complaint until they have finished. However, the Council usually does not delay consideration merely because there is a possibility that legal proceedings may commence. In exceptional circumstances, it may decide to do so or to proceed only under specified conditions.
How should a complaint be made?
- Complaints should be made by completing the Council’s Complaint Form and sending it to the Council either online or by email, fax or post. The contact details are on the form. A Complaint Form is downloadable here and an online complaint can be made here.
- If it is difficult or impossible for a complainant to make a written complaint by using the Complaint Form, he or she is welcome to contact the Council office for advice and assistance (for contact details see here).
- The Council’s complaints process seeks to be as informal, prompt and economical as possible. It usually requires complaints to be made and pursued by complainants themselves or their family or friends, not by lawyers or other professional representatives. Publications are usually required not to communicate with the Council through lawyers.
- Complainants must indicate when making a complaint if they wish some details to be kept confidential from the publication or not published if there is a Council adjudication on the matter. The Council staff will then explain circumstances in which this may be possible and the complainant can decide whether to proceed with the complaint.