The Australian Press Council has considered a complaint about words on the front-page of the Northern Territory News on 5 August 2011. The words, ASYLUM SEEKERS THREATENED TO KILL AUSSIES, COURT TOLD, were a pointer directing readers to an article on page five about the sentencing of an asylum seeker who “threatened to kill Australians” days before stabbing two security guards in a detention centre.
Penny Campton complained that the words in the pointer were inaccurate and unfair because they implied that a number of asylum seekers had made the threats, whereas the article itself mentioned only one such person. She sought an apology and a retraction of the pointer.
The newspaper said that the use of the plural in the pointer was an error made in the production process. It said that the newspaper encouraged compassion towards asylum seekers and cited an editorial from 22 July and subsequent articles in support of that contention. The newspaper thought the error was not sufficiently serious to warrant a correction or an apology, but it offered to publish a letter from the complainant. She declined on the ground that the newspaper itself should admit and correct the error.
The Council concluded that the pointer was clearly a serious inaccuracy demanding an immediate correction, accompanied by an expression of regret. Offering to publish a letter from the complainant was not considered to be sufficient for this purpose. Accordingly, the complaint is upheld and the Council calls on the newspaper to take the remedial action that should have been taken immediately after it became aware of the mistake.
Note (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”. It also applies General Principle 2: "Where it is established that a serious inaccuracy has been published, a publication should promptly correct the error, giving the correction due prominence” and part of Principle 6 "... headlines and captions should fairly reflect the tenor of an article ..."