The Australian Press Council has considered a complaint by the Gold Coast City Council about an article in The Gold Coast Bulletin on 19 March 2012. The article was the sole item on the front page, with a very prominent heading “City’s Credit Crunch” and an opening paragraph saying that the City Council’s credit rating by Queensland Treasury Corporation (QTC) “has been slashed, meaning ratepayers have to pay more every time the council borrows money”. It also occupied most of page 4, under the heading "Credit downgrade lifts loans costs".
The City Council complained that the article was inaccurate in saying that the changed credit rating would increase its interest rates on borrowings. It also claimed there had been no adequate correction of the error. A subsequent article had quoted the acting Mayor as rejecting the assertion but the newspaper itself had not acknowledged the error.
In response, the Gold Coast Bulletin did not provide evidence to support its assertion but denied the City Council’s claim that the QTC had told the newspaper the assertion was incorrect. It also said the follow-up article had provided sufficient balance by reporting the City Council’s claim about QTC’s statement to the newspaper.
The Press Council has concluded that the newspaper did not take sufficient steps to check the accuracy of its assertion. Subsequent inquiries of the QTC have confirmed unambiguously that the assertion was incorrect. The error was aggravated by being on the front page. Accordingly, the aspect of the complaint relating to inaccuracy is upheld.
The Press Council has concluded that having received the Mayor's rejection of the assertion the newspaper should have carefully checked the facts, preferably with the QTC itself. The subsequent article should then have stated that the previous assertion was incorrect, not merely reported the City Council’s claim about it. This failure was especially important because the assertion had been included in a prominent headline and a council election was imminent. Accordingly, the aspect of the complaint relating to failure to correct an inaccuracy is also upheld.
Relevant Council Standards
(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.”; and the Council’s General Principle No 2: "Where it is established that a serious inaccuracy has been published, a publication should promptly correct the error, giving the correction due prominence."