The Press Council considered a complaint about an article published on 31 August 2014 in the Sunday Times print edition headed “IT’S NOT FAIR: Tanning salons snub safety laws” and in Perth Now online headed “Pressure on WA Health Minister Kim Hames to pull plug on solariums, with tanning salons in Perth flouting safety regulations”. The article dealt with a reporter’s attendance at three tanning solariums to enquire about having tanning.
David Murray, the operator of a solarium, said the statement that stores “snub” or were “blatantly flouting” safety regulations was inaccurate and misleading because the solariums had not knowingly or wilfully breached safety regulations. He said the articles stated each of the salons had allowed the reporter to make an appointment to tan despite her having “Type I” fair skin, but omitted to mention that the skin type analysis conducted prior to tanning relied heavily on the misleading information supplied by the reporter in an assessment form she completed. This resulted in an assessment of “Type II” skin (meaning she could tan minimally) and there was no reason to disagree with this assessment. He said his salon manager had taken the necessary steps under the regulations to ensure the skin assessment was carried out correctly and had the reporter answered questions accurately she may have been given a rating of “Type I” skin (meaning she was not permitted to tan).
The complainant also said that had the journalist elected to proceed through to the tanning unit, the information not adequately addressed in her form - such as additional freckles and moles covered by clothing - would have been detected in the final physical check prior to entering the tanning unit. The complainant also said that if the manager’s assessment and the “Type II” skin assessment on the form did not correlate, then the issue would have been discussed further with the reporter. The complainant said after the articles appeared he had written to the publication to complain about them and seek remedial action, but no response was received.
The publication said the articles raised an important public issue by demonstrating the inadequacy of the regulations, given that it was easy for the public to misrepresent their skin type. It said the headlines and articles were justified in their assertion that safety regulations were snubbed and flouted because the industry Standard and the relevant agency place the onus on the operator to do a rigorous assessment of skin type. It said skin analysis should rely not only on a form completed by the customer, but also the operators’ assessment of those answers, questions to the client and a visual assessment. It also said that although the reporter had not answered questions on the form accurately, the reporter is noticeably fair skinned and the operator should have conducted a proper assessment by checking the answers she had provided and doing a physical check.
The publication also said after the articles were published it tried unsuccessfully to contact Mr Murray to offer to publish a letter from him.
The Council’s Standards of Practice require publications to take reasonable care to ensure factual material is accurate and presented with reasonable fairness, and that opinions are not based on inaccurate or omitted key facts. The Council considers the article did not adequately explain the way in which the reporter’s skin type analysis was arrived at, nor reveal the extent to which the reporter had misrepresented her self-assessment, and the impact this information may have had in triggering a more rigorous assessment by the operators or further interrogation which may have been deemed necessary.
The Council considers that while the articles could have highlighted deficiencies in the regulations, they did not do so but instead alleged that the operators were flouting the regulations. In addition, the omission to inform readers that the assertions operators “snub” or “blatantly flout” safety laws was predicated on forms that were filled out untruthfully by the reporter was unfair and significantly misleading. Accordingly, the Council upholds the complaint.
Relevant Council Standards (not required for publication):
This adjudication applies the following General Principles of the Council.
“Publications must take reasonable steps to:
1. Ensure that factual material in news reports and elsewhere is accurate and not misleading, and is distinguishable from other material such as opinion.
2. Provide a correction or other adequate remedial action if published material is significantly inaccurate or misleading.
3. Ensure that factual material is presented with reasonable fairness and balance, and that writers’ expressions of opinion are not based on significantly inaccurate factual material or omission of key facts."