The Press Council considered a complaint about an article headed “$100-a-day to die: Pink batts fitter died after enduring 40C heat in house roof” in The Daily Telegraph on 21 August 2012. It was a report of an inquest into the death of a man while installing house insulation in November 2009.
The article stated this was the third of four deaths “linked to the botched home insulation program” established by the Federal Government. It referred to lack of experience amongst installers and minimal training and supervision for them. It described the program as “Labor’s bungled pink batts scheme” (with the words pink batts scheme being put in double inverted commas) and “the Labor government’s much-maligned $2.8 billion Home Insulation Program”.
The complainant, Donald Cook, said the words “bungled”, “botched” and “much-maligned” were used “in an effort to paint the Home Insulation Program in a wholly negative way” and their use in a news report constituted a failure to distinguish fact from opinion.
The publication replied that the terms did not constitute opinion because “it had been established beyond doubt that the implementation of the Home Insulation Program was flawed and mismanaged”. It cited criticisms by the Australian National Audit Office and other industry and government experts, as well as politicians, of the implementation of the scheme and the quality and safety of many installations.
The cited criticisms included a description of the program by then Prime Minister Julia Gillard as “a mess” and “beset by problems”, and a comment by Kevin Rudd (the Prime Minister under whom the scheme was established) that there have been “real problems with the implementation of this program, there’ve been real problems with compliance and the minister has had those responsibilities removed from him.”
The Council has concluded that as the terms “botched”, “bungled” and “much-maligned” were in an article which clearly purported to be a news report, rather than an opinion article, the publication needed to comply with the Council’s General Principle that reasonable steps must be taken to ensure that such reports are accurate. The evidence cited to the Council by the publication was on the public record prior to the report and it provides sufficient basis for concluding that the publication complied with the relevant Standard.
The General Principle also requires that reasonable steps be taken to ensure that news reports are fair and balanced. The Council does not, however, necessarily require each news report on a particular topic to provide a fair and balanced overview of that topic. This applies especially where the report is principally describing a new development in a long-running topic. In the circumstances of this particular article, it does not consider that this aspect of the General Principle has been breached.
Accordingly, the complaint is not upheld.
Relevant Council Standard
(not required for publication by the newspaper):
This adjudication applies part of General Principle 1: “Publications should take reasonable steps to ensure reports are accurate, fair and balanced”.