The Australian Press Council has considered a complaint by the Commonwealth Solicitor-General, Stephen Gageler SC, about a front-page report in The Australian on 9 August 2011 of a High Court hearing in which he had appeared.
The article stated that a Justice had "expressed his frustration at Mr Gageler …saying his efforts in court was [sic] highly ‘unsatisfactory’ and ‘half-baked’". After an approach by Mr Gageler, the newspaper published a correction comprising two agreed sentences on the following day, stating that, in fact, the Justice "was referring to the Commonwealth’s preparation of an affidavit for the court hearing".
The correction appeared on page 2, as previously notified to Mr Gageler, but he complained to the Press Council that it had not been given sufficient prominence to remedy the damage to his reputation. It appeared at the bottom of the left-hand column under a small heading "Correction", immediately preceded by many lines in small print giving details of the publisher and printers in each State which did not encourage readers to read that corner of the page. Mr Gageler said many commentators had picked up the original statement but he knew of none who had picked up the correction.
The Australian told the Council that the correction "appeared in a spot on page 2 where the newspaper almost always places clarifications and corrections", where its regular readers know they will appear. It added, however, that such corrections had often appeared higher on the page and would do so as part of a new standard design, which includes the Press Council logo and contact details.
The Press Council concluded that the prominence did not meet its requirement that a correction has "the effect, as far as possible, of neutralising any damage arising from the original publication and…. Is likely to be seen by those who saw" the original material. It should have been made more prominent by measures such as higher positioning on the page and a larger heading or prominent box. Given the gravity of the damage to Mr Gageler’s reputation by the front-page report, the attention of readers of that report should have been attracted by including his name in the heading of the correction or in a front page pointer to it.
Accordingly, the complaint is upheld.
The Council welcomed the prompt publication of the correction and its addition to the newspaper’s archived copy of the original article. The newspaper undertook to add the correction to the version which is publicly available through search engines.
Note (not required for publication by the newspaper):
This adjudication applies the Council’s 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 Note 2: "The Council interprets "due prominence" as requiring the publication to ensure the retraction, clarification, correction, explanation or apology has the effect, as far as possible, of neutralising any damage arising from the original publication, and that any published adjudication is likely to be seen by those who saw the material on which the complaint was based.''