The Press Council has considered whether its Standards of Practice were breached by the publication of an article in The Advertiser on 3 January 2015. The headline was “How Labor jihad dented PM’s law on terror travel”. An online version of the article was published on 2 January 2015 with the headline “Labor to blame for watering down law that make it harder to jail returning jihadis”.
The article asserted the federal Labor opposition was responsible for “watering down” proposed amendments to the Foreign Fighters Bill following a recommendation to ban travel to regions within countries, rather than travel to specific countries as had been proposed by the government.
The Council asked the publication to comment on whether the article had breached its Standards of Practice requiring that reasonable steps be taken to “ensure that factual material in news reports and elsewhere is accurate and not misleading”, “is presented with reasonable fairness and balance” and “that writers’ expressions of opinion are not based on… omission of key facts”.
The publication said the article accurately reflected the circumstance that the Labor Party had been the “driving force” behind changes to the Foreign Fighters Bill. It said that to ensure the passing of this legislation, the Government had sought bipartisan support. Labor had indicated disagreement with the travel restrictions and so the Government had sought a compromise in order to ensure passage of the legislation by the Senate. The publication said as a consequence, the Bill was referred to the Committee for review, consisting of Coalition and Labor MPs, and the changes pressed for by Labor were recommended. It said without a campaign by Labor to have changes made, the legislation would have been “tougher”.
The publication said the use of the term “jihad” was not intended to be literal, but was in keeping with the dictionary definition of a “crusade” or “campaign” which it said Labor had pursued to have the legislation amended. It said this was reflected in the body of the article.
The Council considers that “jihad” is a term with connotations of extremist behaviour. Its use in the headline had the result that the material was not presented with reasonably fairness and balance.
The Council is not satisfied that the article is inaccurate or misleading to the extent that it accurately attributes the recommended changes to the “joint intelligence committee, which included Liberal MPs”. However, Council notes that the 11 member Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, which recommended the changes, had a majority of six Coalition members and that Labor members made up the minority of the Committee.
The Council concluded that the omission of this significant fact together with the headline, and the lack of any explanation to support the assertion that the recommendation is wholly attributable to the Labor opposition, contributed to the article’s lack of fairness and balance.
Accordingly, the Council was not satisfied that the material was in breach of General Principle 1. The material was accurate as far as it went, but the material was presented in a manner which gave rise to a breach of General Principle 3.
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.
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.”