The Press Council has considered whether its Standards of Practice were breached by material on page 54 of The Sunday Mail on 25 May 2014 headed “Poll supports asset sales”. The same text appeared online under the heading “Editorial: Galaxy poll shows Queenslanders support asset sales”.
The material was not designated as an editorial but it appeared under a heading “SundayMail” and was part of a page very prominently headed “COMMENT”. The text of the print and online material included the statement that “[o]ur Galaxy Poll today clearly shows that Queenslanders are embracing asset sales rather than reduce government services or increase taxes”.
The material did not provide any statistical results, methodology or other details of the poll. There was no reference to any place where such details might be found. An article on page 8 of the print version did not provide these details. A separate online article on the same day said the survey involved 800 Queenslanders and found “38 percent of peopled believed asset sales were the best option to reduce debt, compared to 21 per cent for increased taxes and 24 per cent for reduced services”.
The Council asked the publication to comment on whether the print material on page 54 and the online editorial complied with the Council’s General Principle 6 that “publications are free to advocate their own views... as long as readers can recognise what is fact and what is opinion. Relevant facts should not be misrepresented or suppressed”.
The publication said this print and online material was clearly recognisable to readers as being an expression of opinion in an editorial. It said that sufficient supporting details of the survey and its results had been published in the report on page 8 of the print version and in the separate online article. The publication also provided the Council with further detail of the questions asked in the survey, the statistical results, and other matters.
The Council considers that the material in question was sufficiently identifiable as being part of an editorial or of a comment piece. However, not all statements in an editorial or comment piece are necessarily expressions of opinion or recognisable as such, rather than being or appearing to be statements of fact.
In this case, the unexplained and unqualified reference to the poll results relating to asset sales, government services and taxes was not distinguishable as the publication’s opinion about the meaning of the poll. The material was likely to be read as a statement of fact.
The failure to indicate where detail of the poll findings and methodology could be found and the fact that the detail which was provided elsewhere did not enable readers to ascertain whether the statement in the material was opinion or fact, meant that relevant facts were not disclosed.
Accordingly, the Council considers that the print material on page 54 and the online editorial were in breach of General Principle 6. It recommends that publications consider the Council’s Advisory Guideline on opinion polls which it issued in 2001.
Relevant Council Standards of Practice (not required for publication):
This adjudication applies the following General Principles of the Council that were applicable at the time the article was published.
General Principle 6: “Publications are free to advocate their own views and publish the bylined opinions of others, as long as readers can recognise what is fact and what is opinion. Relevant facts should not be misrepresented or suppressed…”