The Australian Press Council has considered a complaint from Frankston councillor Colin Hampton about an article in The Herald Sun, Melbourne on 24 February 2012. The main headline was “Fury over female put-down”, above which was the heading “Women should forget local politics and 'look after the kids'". The opening paragraph said Cr Hampton had “infuriated his female colleagues by claiming women were too busy to stand for council because they have to look after the kids”.
Cr Hampton complained that this material gravely misrepresented his remarks. He said he had sympathised with the difficulties faced by women, not denigrated them or sought to discourage them. He had said the proposed workshops should be for a range of people who might face disadvantages, not only for women, and he had supported a motion to that effect which was passed later in the meeting. He noted that the local newspaper, Frankston Standard Leader, had published a somewhat similar article by the same journalist but then published a correction which accepted that he had been sympathising with women.
The Herald Sun responded that the substance of the story and the main heading were accurate. It criticised Cr Hampton's reference to menstruation in the course of his remarks. It acknowledged that the words above the main heading were a “bit strong” and for this reason had offered to publish prominently an explanatory letter from Cr Hampton. He declined on the basis that the proposed limit of 120 words was too restrictive. The newspaper acknowledged that the article had been based on the article for the local newspaper (owned by the same company) but the headings and opening paragraphs had been made “sharper”. The newspaper saw this as a case of someone saying something and then regretting his comments when he saw them in print.
The Press Council has concluded that the headings and opening paragraph misrepresented Cr Hampton’s comments at the Council and his attitude towards helping women to become councillors. Accordingly, this aspect of the complaint is upheld.
The newspaper should have checked its interpretation with Cr Hampton before publishing and, having failed to do so, should have issued a correction similar to the one in the local newspaper from which the story originated. A newspaper in this situation should promptly and publicly acknowledge its mistake, not merely offer to publish a letter putting the “other side”. Accordingly, this aspect of the complaint is upheld.
Relevant Council Standards
(not required to be published):
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."; and 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".