The Australian Press Council has considered a complaint by Michael Atkinson MLA about material accompanying an article in The Advertiser, Adelaide, of 6 September 2011 on the resignation of SA Premier Mike Rann. Headed In with the new - out with the old, the material contained a few sentences about each of a number of former and new Ministers. The description of Mr Atkinson began "The party's most eccentric figure sparked voter anger with an attempt to censor internet blog forums ..."
Mr Atkinson complained that use of the word "censor" misrepresented the legislation he introduced to extend to the internet the long-established law that, during election periods, letters to the editor intended to influence the result of the election should bear the author's real name. He complained that the newspaper refused to publish a letter to the editor in which he had sought to correct the record.
The newspaper responded that the legislation amounted to censorship because it would have reduced the right to free speech and was an attempt to close down legitimate debate. The editor said he had not been involved in the decision about the letter and, having now seen it, thought it probably should have been published.
The Press Council concluded that there are strong grounds for arguing that the term "censor" is an inaccurate or unfair description of the effect of legislation which does not prevent people from expressing themselves on the internet but simply requires them to provide their names in the same way as has long applied to letters in newspapers. In any event, having used such a strong and disputable term, the newspaper had a clear obligation to publish Mr Atkinson’s letter or discuss with him ways in which it could be edited for inclusion. Accordingly, the complaint is upheld on that ground.
Note (not required for publication by the newspaper):
This adjudication applies part of the Council’s General Principle 1: "Publications should take reasonable steps to ensure reports are accurate, fair and balanced…. ". 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".