The Australian Press Council has considered a complaint by Prof Rob Donovan and Assoc Prof Ted Wilkes about an article, Photo a defining jolt for minister, in The West Australian on 7-8 May 2011. The article focused on the impact of a photograph published by the newspaper in 2010 showing an Aboriginal man standing in his kitchen in Roebourne. It quoted a Western Australian Cabinet Minister as saying that the photograph was “quite a defining moment in prompting the government action to improve the lot of indigenous people in Roebourne".
The complaint related to a passage in the article which, after describing what the picture showed, read: “Its publication led to a campaign against The West by Curtin academics Rob Donovan and Ted Wilkes”. In July last year the Australian Press Council upheld a complaint by the pair against the newspaper.
The complainants said that this passage in the 2011 article was inaccurate and unfair because their earlier complaint, and the Council’s upholding of it, did not relate solely to the picture itself but rather to its interaction with the caption and the subsequent publication of a number of letters to the editor which related to the caption. They pointed out that the Council had upheld the complaint because of what it called the "cumulative effects" of the photograph, caption and letters.
The newspaper replied that the 2011 article was accurate and fair because the photograph was the crucial aspect of the earlier complaint and of the Council’s decision – without the photograph there would have been no caption or letters. It said that the sentences were included to be transparent about the criticism which had been made of the photograph in the earlier complaint and adjudication.
The Press Council has concluded that the 2011 article was inaccurate because it gave the impression that the earlier complaint and adjudication had been solely about the photograph. In fact, the caption had been an essential element, as had the letters based on the caption. Accordingly, the complaint is upheld.