A complaint about an article on 29 January 2013 headed "Carbon tax puts squeeze on business".
The article reported the results of a survey by the Ai Group of the impact on businesses of the Federal Government’s carbon tax between 1 July 2012, when the tax was introduced, and November 2012. It said that among manufacturing businesses surveyed, “14.5 per cent had been added to some energy bills”, while “the impact was slightly lower for service provider firms – 13.6 per cent – compared with construction firms, which face an average increase of 14.8 per cent”.
Steve Foy complained that the article was inaccurate and misleading because it overstated the survey’s findings. He said businesses had been asked to estimate the increases in their energy bill due to the carbon tax; they had not been asked to report the actual increases.
He noted that when releasing the survey the Ai Group had warned: “The high profile of the carbon tax appears to have led to some over-estimation by businesses of the specific impact of the carbon tax on their energy cost increases over the past year”. It had also noted the estimates in the survey were substantially higher than shown by the Australian Bureau of Statistics data covering the first three months of the tax.
The Daily Telegraph said it had clearly indicated that the 14.5 per cent increase applied only to “some” manufacturers and that “some [businesses] had said the carbon tax is not as bad as they first feared”. The article also mentioned one business owner who “expected it would add 15 per cent to his energy costs but now estimates the carbon tax will add about 11 per cent”.
The publication also said the ABS data was not directly comparable as it related only to electricity costs (not all energy costs) and did not cover all of the survey period. It said the journalist had interviewed the CEO of Ai Group and given an indication of his views in the article. It did not consider the article required any amendment, but it offered to add additional information to the online version of the article.
The Council notes the Ai Group’s media release on the survey made numerous references to the increases being estimates and included two prominent warnings about the potential for over-estimation. It has concluded that omission of the key matters led to the article being inaccurate. It welcomes the proposed additions to the online version, but considers they cannot sufficiently rectify the impact of the initial article in print and online. Accordingly, this aspect of the complaint is upheld.
The Council does not consider the information about the ABS data needed to be included, given the difference in reporting period and the scope of costs in question. This aspect of the complaint is not upheld.
(not required for publication):
The Council was supplied with two emails from Ai Group on the issue of whether or not the article was a fair reflection of its report. The first was by a media adviser who said that whereas the Ai Group report mentioned business estimates of the impact of the carbon tax on electricity prices, the article published by The Daily Telegraph reported the data as if they were actual impacts. She described this as a “fundamental shortcoming”. The second was by the CEO, who said he had no issue with the article and that he found its use of the data to be “entirely understandable and defensible”. He also provided the Council with a statement indicating he thought the article was a reasonable interpretation of the report.
The views of the authors and publishers of survey reports are clearly relevant to the Council when deciding whether the reports have been described accurately and fairly in an article. But the Council must also take account of the interests of readers in being provided with a fair and accurate summary of the aspects of the report on which the article focuses.
Relevant Council Standards
(not required for publication):
This adjudication applies the Council’s General Principle 1: “Publications should take reasonable steps to ensure reports are accurate, fair and balanced”.