The Press Council has considered a complaint about an article which was headed "Roo the day" in the Food and Wine section of The Weekend Australian on 11-12 January 2014. The article described the “modern face of the [kangaroo] harvest” or “roo shooting”. It was based on the writer’s observations when accompanying a shooter.
The complainant is the President of the Australian Society for Kangaroos. She said the article was inaccurate and unfair in saying that kangaroo harvesting involved “world’s best practice”, is “tightly regulated”, and “the most humane harvest in the world”. She said it misleadingly presented the kangaroo shoot in which the writer participated as if it represented general standards of harvesting. She said Russia had banned import of kangaroo meat (except from one producer, Macro Meats) due to concerns about contamination, and a number of organisations had provided evidence that the meat breaches food hygiene standards and the harvesting is not “the most humane”.
The complainant also said that, although the article disclosed that the author “travelled courtesy of Liquid Ideas”, it did not explain that Liquid Ideas was a promotional company for Macro Meats, which had proposed and paid for the trip.
The publication said the article was clearly a subjective portrayal of the journalist’s experiences and impressions from tracing the harvest of kangaroo meat by Macro Meats from the paddock to the plate. The print version was prefaced by a reference to the author’s “passionate argument for eating kangaroo” and described him as “an advocate for eating kangaroo”. It said the Russian ban had been lifted in 2012 and that the author saw convincing evidence of the industry being tightly regulated. He was shown what the shooters said was world’s best practice and was not seeking to assess the conduct of a particular producer or the industry.
The publication said the journalist received only modest accommodation and transport, and never felt any obligation to write a favourable story. It said the Liquid Ideas website showed Macro Meats as a client. It acknowledged, however, that the article should have disclosed the involvement of Macro Meats.
The Council's Standards of Practice state that publications must ensure readers can recognise what is fact and what is opinion and that relevant facts are not misrepresented or suppressed. They also state that readers must be advised of any potential conflict of interest.
The Council considers that the statements about kangaroo harvesting in the article were likely to be read as subjective assessments by the journalist rather than verified statements of fact. The journalist is a well-known food writer and readers would recognise it was not an investigation into the kangaroo industry, but part of a paddock to plate series in a weekend section on food and wine. There was no basis for concluding that any evidence of Macro Meats’ processes being inhumane or unhygienic had been omitted. Accordingly, the complaint relating to inaccuracy and unfairness is not upheld.
The Council has concluded that the involvement of Macro Meats in proposing and sponsoring the trip amounted to a potential conflict of interest and should have been disclosed explicitly to readers. Accordingly, that aspect of the complaint is upheld. The publication’s subsequent disclosure in the online archived version of the article is welcome but does not eliminate the breach.
Relevant Council Standards (not required for publication):
This adjudication applies the Council’s General Principle 6: “Publications are free to advocate their own views and publish the by-lined opinions of others as long as readers can recognize what is fact and what is opinion. Relevant facts should not be misrepresented or suppressed, headlines and captions should fairly reflect the tenor of an article and readers should be advised of any manipulation of images and potential conflicts of interest.