Making a complaint

INTRODUCTION

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 can a complaint be made?
How can 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 only major newspaper which is not published by a constituent body is The West Australian.
  • 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?

General rule

  • In general, any person may lodge a complaint about published material.

“Third party matters” 

  • Where a complainant is not personally identified or directly affected by the published material, the complaint is considered as a “third party matter” and some different procedures apply (see Handling of Complaints).
  • Unless there are exceptional circumstances, the Council will not consider complaints by one publisher member of the Council against another.

WHEN CAN A COMPLAINT BE MADE?

General rule

  • A person can complain to the Council
  • after complaining 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. 

Time limits

  • Complaints must usually be made within thirty days of the first publication of the relevant material. Where appropriate, a 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 thirty days may be allowed where, for example,
  • there was a reasonable justification for the complainant not having previously noticed the material; or
  • the complaint involves a number of articles over a lengthy period; or
  • the complainant had spent time unsuccessfully seeking a response from the publication; or
  • there were other good grounds for delaying submission of a complaint.

Legal proceedings

  • 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 may do so.
  • If proceedings have commenced or there is a reasonable possibility that they may be commenced, the publisher may request that the Council withholds action or does not take any action unless the complainant meets specified conditions. These conditions may include, for example, that the complainant signs a confidentiality agreement or, if the complainant prefers, a commitment not to commence legal proceedings. In either case, the agreement must be in a form agreed by the Council. Further information on this topic is available in the fact sheet, Legal Proceedings.

HOW CAN A COMPLAINT BE MADE?

General rule

  • 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.

Exception

  • 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).

Legal and other professional representatives

  • 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.

Confidentiality

  • Complainants must indicate when making a complaint if they wish some details to be kept confidential from the publication or not to be published in any 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.

 

 
 
 
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