The Press Council has considered a complaint about an article headed "Adler owes it all to his wife – How Lyndi has built a business empire" in The Sunday Telegraph on 29 December 2013. The online version had a different heading.
The article mentioned Rodney Adler’s conviction and imprisonment in 2002 on charges relating to his directorship of HIH Insurance. It said Mr Adler still had nine years before being allowed to be a director or manage a corporation, but his wife Lyndi Adler “is building up a sizeable business portfolio” and “has taken on 14 new roles in different companies, many of them in June and July last year”. It also said: “Many of the total 34 companies Mrs Adler has a role in are investment and venture capital vehicles, once Adler’s passion.”
As well as photographs of the couple and their home, the print version included a prominent pointer, under the words “Law and order - The strife and crimes of a strange old year”, to the page number of an article later in the same edition. It also included Mr Adler’s quote from 2010 in which he acknowledged his time in jail and spoke about rebuilding his life and a business as “an advisor on corporate governance and avoiding corporate crime”.
Mr Adler complained it was inaccurate and unfair to say his wife was building a “business empire” and to publish an article of this kind, which could be read as an invitation to regulators to review his conduct. He said most of the companies in question were concerned with family matters such as trusts for their children and they did not amount to an “empire”. He also said it was an invasion of his privacy to re-publish his comments in 2010 about his conviction in 2002; they were past events for which he had completed a custodial sentence. He also said the pointer unfairly implied an association between him and the later article, which did not mention but focussed on people who had been accused or convicted of murder, assault, drug use and corruption.
Mr Adler also complained that several other statements in the article were inaccurate, namely that he “spent 2½ years in jail for his role in the $5 billion collapse of insurer HIH”; he “has reportedly invested in” a fodder-growing company, a syringe maker and the Sydney cafe, Bar Coluzzi; his wife “is involved with” the women’s division of the United Israel Appeal NSW; and he and his wife “won a court battle” over the naming of a Melbourne synagogue. He said a subsequent correction in the newspaper 42 days later was not sufficiently prompt or prominent enough and did not correct all the inaccuracies.
The publication said it was reasonable and in the public interest to report and examine the increase in Ms Adler’s directorships and business activities at a time when her husband was still prevented by court orders from directing or managing a company. It said the past quotes from Mr Adler were accurate, helped explain the context of the article and were not presented as being recent. It also said the journalist contacted Mrs Adler for comment before publication but had been referred to Mr Adler, who did not respond.
The publication said as soon as it became aware that Mr Adler’s offences did not relate to the collapse of HIH Insurance, and of its inaccuracies in reporting his investments and his role in court action about the synagogue, it had published a correction. It said there was no need for a correction about the United Israel Appeal because he and his wife had contributed to the appeal, the website of which published photographs of them attending a “major donor and evening function”.
The Press Council’s Principles require that publications take reasonable steps to ensure reports are accurate, fair and balanced, and that any serious inaccuracy should be corrected promptly and with due prominence. Also, they should respect people’s privacy and sensibilities, although this does not require omission of matters which are on the public record or significantly in the public interest.
The Council notes the publication did not refute Mr Adler’s assertion that his wife’s directorships were largely of vehicles for her family’s investments which did not involve other people’s money. In the absence of any evidence of wider business activities, the Council considers the description of Mrs Adler’s business activities unfair. It also considers that the description of Mr Adler’s conviction was inaccurate and unfair because the judge explicitly said the charges did not relate to the company’s collapse. The Council has also concluded that the impact of the pointer to a later article about people who had been accused or convicted of very different offences added to the unfairness. Accordingly, these aspects of the complaints are upheld.
The Council does not consider, however, that the privacy of Mr Adler and his family was breached by re-publishing his past statements, especially as they related to his future activities. It considered the statements about his investments and the United Israel Appeal were somewhat ambiguous and did not amount to serious inaccuracies. The statement about the synagogue was inaccurate but not sufficiently serious to uphold the complaint on this matter. The delay in correction was due to understandable miscommunications and the prominence was sufficient because, although not toward the front of the newspaper, it was on a right-hand page and prominently headed “Correction: Rodney Adler”. Accordingly, these aspects of the complaint were not upheld.
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”; 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”; and General Principle 4: “News and comment should be presented honestly and fairly, and with respect for the privacy and sensibilities of individuals. However, the right to privacy is not to be interpreted as preventing publication of matters of public record or obvious or significant public interest. Rumour and unconfirmed reports should be identified as such.”