The Press Council has considered whether its Standards of Practice were breached by an online article in The Sydney Morning Herald on 22 January 2014 headed “Bidding war for Schapelle Corby’s first post-jail interview”. The article said the Corby family was in negotiations with TV networks for the first interview with Schapelle Corby after her release from jail in Bali. It also said her mother, Rosleigh Rose, “even allowed the (Seven) network to fly her to Bali”.
After the article appeared, a member of a support group for Ms Corby told the publication in an email that the statement was false and that it should contact Ms Rose. The support group was known to have had close associations with the Corby family over some years. The member then contacted the Press Council and later Ms Rose herself told the Council that after seeing the article she left a message with the publication denying that the network paid for her to go to Bali, but she received no reply.
The Council asked the publication to comment on three issues concerning possible breach of the Standards of Practice. First, were reasonable steps taken to ensure accuracy and fairness in the article? Second, was Ms Rose given a reasonable opportunity to comment before publication or to have a response published? Third, if there were any serious inaccuracies in the article were they corrected promptly and with due prominence?
The publication said the article did not suggest Ms Rose had done anything wrong. It said the statement about Ms Rose’s flight was based on two independent sources, each of whom was directly involved in the matter and had knowledge of the flight arrangements. These sources refused to provide details of the method of payment for the flight, lest they risk damage to their relationship with the Corby family. The publication said it had no evidence to refute the sources and the publication’s strained relationship with the family weakened its capacity to communicate with Ms Rose. It outlined several ways in which it said unsuccessfully attempts had been made to get her contact details in order to seek comment before publication.
It said it had no record of a message from Ms Rose but that after receiving the support group member’s email it re-checked with its sources at the network who reiterated that the network had arranged to fly Ms Rose to Bali. It said it did not reply to the email because it did not know whether the sender was acting on Ms Rose’s behalf.
The Council has been unable to ascertain with a sufficient degree of confidence whether the Seven network paid or arranged for Ms Rose’s flight and whether the publication took reasonable steps to check the matter before publication. Consequently, no breach of its Standards of Practice can be found in this respect.
However, the Council has concluded that once the publication had been alerted to a possible error of fact, particularly given that the source was a member of a support group known to have close connections to the Corby family, it should have taken further steps to contact Ms Rose (including through the sender of the email) to give her an opportunity to comment, even if that attempt was ultimately unsuccessful. Failure to do so falls within and is a breach of General Principle 3 of the Council’s Standards of Practice which provides that a reasonable opportunity should be provided for a balancing response in circumstances of this kind.
Relevant Council Standards (not required for publication)
This adjudication applies the following General Principles of the Council as they applied at the time the article appeared:
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.”
Note 2 to the General Principles: “The Council interprets ‘due prominence’ as requiring the publication to ensure the retraction, clarification, correction, explanation or apology has the effect, as far as possible, of neutralising any damage arising from the original publication, and that any published adjudication is likely to be seen by those who saw the material on which the complaint was based.”
General Principle 3: “Where individuals or groups are a major focus of news reports or commentary, the publication should ensure fairness and balance in the original article. Failing that, it should provide a reasonable and swift opportunity for a balancing response in an appropriate section of the publication.”