The Press Council has considered whether its Standards of Practice were breached by a print and online article “When babies are a good career move” in The Australian Financial Review on 3 September 2014.
The writer refers to what she calls the “gender pay gap” as being “18.2%... its highest level in 30 years”. She describes this gap as a measure of “the difference between what men and women are paid for the same job, same hours”. She quotes in support a report by the Federal Government’s Workplace Gender and Equality Agency that the “national gender pay gap” is 18.2%. However, the agency’s report defines that gap as “the difference between women’s and men’s average weekly full-time equivalent earnings, expressed as a percentage of men’s earnings”.
After receiving a complaint, the Council asked the publication to comment on whether it had taken reasonable steps to ensure factual material is accurate and not misleading. It also asked the publication to comment on whether it had taken reasonable steps to provide a correction or other adequate remedial action in relation to material which is significantly inaccurate or misleading.
The publication said the author’s use of the term “gender pay gap” was a “colloquial” and “short hand term” for what “plenty of people would describe” as the gender pay gap. It conceded, however, that the gap was defined and measured in a different way by the report on which she relied when stating that the gap was 18.2%, and therefore her statement was “technically inaccurate”. But it said that a reader’s concerns on the point would be adequately addressed by writing a letter to the editor, which it would have seriously considered for publication.
The Council considers that the article clearly stated as fact that the “gender pay gap” was 18.2% when measured by reference to remuneration for the “same job, same hours”. However, the agency report on which it relied for this statistic defined and measured the gap as being, in effect, for the same hours but not necessarily in the same jobs.
As this method was made clear in the agency report itself, and the difference is of considerable significance, the Council has concluded there was a failure to take reasonable steps to ensure factual material is accurate and not misleading. Accordingly, there was a breach of the Council’s Standards in this respect.
The Council’s Standards require a publication to provide a correction or other adequate remedial action if a significant inaccuracy occurs. In this instance, the publication failed to do so even after the inaccuracy had been brought to its attention by the Council.
Where an inaccuracy is significant and not reasonably disputable, as in this case, it is usually necessary for the publication to make the correction in its own name rather than to treat it as if just a dispute between two opinions that can be remedied adequately by publishing a letter to the editor. Accordingly, the Council has concluded that there was a breach of the Standards of Practice in this respect.
Relevant Council Standards (not required for publication):
This adjudication applies the following Standard of Practice of the Council:
General Principle 1:”Publications must take reasonable steps to ensure that factual material in news reports and elsewhere is accurate and not misleading, and is distinguishable from other material such as opinion.”
General Principle 2: “Publications must take reasonable steps to provide a correction or other adequate remedial action if published material is significantly inaccurate or misleading.”