The Press Council has considered a complaint by Diane Frola about two articles in The Sun-Herald on 9 and 16 February 2014 respectively. The first was headed “Nine battles to keep telemovie on the air” in print and “Channel Nine battles to keep Schapelle Corby telemovie on air” online. The second was headed “Corby a magnet for conspiracy theorists” in print and “Schapelle Corby a magnet for conspiracy theorists” online.
The first article said Ms Frola “has her own page” on a website run by supporters of Ms Corby called The Expendable Project and “has uploaded videos” to the site. The second article said she and another named person were a “global collaboration” behind the website and claim to have exposed a conspiracy involving the Australian and Indonesian governments, media and others. It said she is a ‘hanger-on’, “Queensland UFO fanatic, anti-vaccine crusader, fluoride sceptic and conspiracy theorist”, “the UFO lady” who has “a career... publishing… conspiracy theories”, and “the editor of the magazine Hard Evidence, which deals with… the paranormal, crop circles, alien abductions and ‘government conspiracies’”.
Ms Frola complained that the articles were inaccurate and misleading in stating or implying she had a strong relationship with the Expendable Project website. She said she did not have a page on it, did not have access to upload videos to the site and was not in a “global collaboration” behind it. She claimed the descriptions of her as a “fanatic” and “conspiracy theorist” were inaccurate and unfair, as was the implication that her involvement with the magazine meant she necessarily believed assertions in it. She said the publication’s email to her before the articles appeared did not ask any specific questions about matters subsequently included in them. She said she replied that she would not answer questions. She also complained that the publication had not complied with her subsequent requests for a retraction.
The publication responded by saying the website had a specific page for videos posted by her. It said an interview on the website describes her as part of an international group involved in a movie based on the website, and the link to the interview describes it as Ms Frola discussing “her documentary The Expendable Project." It said she promoted the website from her Facebook page and included its address on her Twitter account. It said donations to The Expendable Project were collected through an account linked to her email address. However, she told the Council this only occurred while she was seeking donations to pay for a transcript of court proceedings she had attended with Schapelle Corby’s sister.
The publication also said her interest in UFOs was mentioned in her own online biography and confirmed by her editing the magazine Hard Evidence. It said a posting by her had accused the Australian Federal Police of "suppressing" information about Schapelle Corby.
The publication said before the first article appeared it sent questions to an email address provided by her, made many attempts to chase up a reply, and just before publication received a message that she was “unable to assist”. It said subsequent comments on Facebook suggested she never had any intention of responding. It also said before the second article was published, its correspondent happened to meet her but she declined his request to comment.
The Council’s Standards of Practice require publications to take reasonable care to ensure accuracy, fairness and balance. The Council considers there were sufficient grounds for asserting Ms Frola had a close link to the website and the project, especially as she had refused the prior opportunity to comment. It also considers that, especially in light of that refusal, the publication did not fail to take reasonable steps to ensure fairness in its other statements about her interests and beliefs. The Council has not been provided with any evidence which was sufficiently decisive to require that a correction be published.
Accordingly, the complaint against the publication is not upheld. In arriving at this conclusion, the Council is not stating a firm view as to whether the publication’s statements about Ms Frola were accurate. The relevant Standard requires only that reasonable steps were taken to ensure accuracy.
Relevant Council Standards (not required for publication):
This adjudication applies the following Standards of Practice of the Council which were applicable at the time the material was published:
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”.
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”.
Notes (not required for publication):
Ms Frola complained that the caption on a video linked to the online version of the second article inaccurately said she was the wife of the other person shown in it. After the Council notified this complaint to the publication, the error was promptly corrected. In the particular circumstances of this matter, the Council considered the publication’s conduct breached the Standards of Practice but was not sufficiently serious to require the complaint on this ground be upheld.