The Press Council has considered a complaint by Jane Butler about material published in the Macedon Ranges Free Press on 8 April 2014. The material was headed “CLARIFICATION” and was in a box on the letters page.
The “clarification” related to a letter by Ms Butler, published a week earlier, in which she claimed that the Macedon Ranges Shire Council had wrongly issued an Animal Keeping Permit and was not providing honest answers about the issue. The “clarification” said the Shire Council had responded in writing to each of forty queries by Ms Butler and had never denied issuing the permit. The “clarification” had been written at the instigation of the Shire Council but was not attributed to it and Ms Butler was not consulted about it.
Ms Butler complained to the Press Council that the “clarification” had implied she was a liar and troublemaker and had stated that her letter incorrectly claimed Macedon Ranges Shire Council officers refused on several occasions to respond to her concerns. She also said the “clarification” had incorrectly stated that the Shire Council never denied issuing an Animal Keeping Permit. She said the publication had refused to publish a letter from her responding to the “clarification”.
The publication told the Press Council that the clarification had been based on statements made to it by the Shire Council. It said the second letter by Ms Butler was too long to be published, and that she had had a fair opportunity to express her views in the publication and in public meetings. It also said the letter was inappropriate because the issue had become a legal matter due to her lawyer speaking with the Shire Council’s lawyer.
The Press Council considers that the “clarification” was presented as if it was a news report. The Council’s Standards of Practice require that reasonable steps are taken to ensure such reports are accurate, fair and balanced.
The Press Council has concluded that the “clarification” was inaccurate and unfair in stating that Ms Butler claimed the Macedon Ranges Shire Council had not responded to her queries. In fact, she said it had not replied honestly. The Press Council also considers that the publication did not take reasonable steps to ensure the accuracy, fairness and balance of its statement in the “clarification” that the Shire Council never denied issuing the Animal Keeping Permit. Accordingly these aspects of the complaint are upheld.
The Press Council’s Standards of Practice require that if an article has not been fair and balanced, the publication must provide a reasonable and swift opportunity for a balancing response in an appropriate section of the publication. The Council agrees that the publication was justified in rejecting Ms Butler’s second letter as much too long to be published. But it considers that, in the particular circumstances of this case, the publication should have discussed with her the possibility of providing a shorter version which could be published. Accordingly, this aspect of the complaint is also upheld.