The Press Council considered whether its Standards of Practice were breached by the publication of an article on news.com.au on 13 January 2016, headed “Record $US1.5 billion Powerball draw now open to Australian punters”.
The article reported on a betting company, Lottoland, “giving Australians the chance to enter the world’s biggest ever lottery, the whopping $US1.5 billion ($2.15 billion) Powerball jackpot.” The article quoted a Lottoland representative saying: “It’s quite incredible now to think Australian citizens through Lottoland can join in on the race to win a mega international lottery without having to leave the comfort of their own lounge room or office.”
Following a complaint, the Council asked the publication to comment on whether the material breached its Standards of Practice by suggesting Australian citizens are able to “enter” directly into a lottery normally reserved for American residents. The Council also asked the publication to comment on whether it had adequately addressed any possible breaches.
The publication acknowledged that Lottoland did not in fact offer Australians the opportunity to enter the Powerball lottery but rather bet on the outcome of that lottery, and said the information in the article was based partly on a Lottoland press release. The publication said it published a subsequent “explainer” article on 19 January 2016, headed “It’s in the fine print – why your lotto ticket is not what it seems”, which informed readers that Lottoland was not a lottery agency but operated more like a bookmaker, taking bets on which numbers would be drawn. The publication also said that on about 15 February 2016, after being made aware of the complaint about the original article, it amended the article to ensure the source of any reader confusion was removed and attached an Editor’s Note to inform readers that it had been amended.
The Council’s Standards of Practice require publications to take reasonable steps to ensure that factual material is accurate and not misleading (General Principle 1) and is reasonably fair and balanced (General Principle 3), to publish corrections or take other adequate remedial action if published material is significantly inaccurate or misleading (General Principle 2) and to give a fair opportunity for subsequent publication of a reply if necessary (General Principle 4).
The Council considers that the information in the original article may have led readers to believe that they could enter directly into the American lottery by dealing with Lottoland. Notwithstanding the article on 19 January, the key errors of fact in the original article went uncorrected for a week. Accordingly, the Council concludes that General Principles 1 and 3 were breached in this respect.
The Council’s Standards also require that reasonable steps be taken to publish a correction or take other adequate remedial action where published material is significantly inaccurate or misleading. The Council acknowledges the publication made changes to the original article on about 15 February 2016, after being alerted to the complaint, but would expect the publication to have become aware that the original article was inaccurate or misleading when it published the article on 19 January 2016. The Council considers that the obligation to take reasonable steps required the publication to link the 19 January article to the original article, in order to draw this corrected information to readers’ attention. In addition, although the article of 19 January did give a prominent explanation of the differences between Lottoland and the American lottery, the original article as amended did not appear on the publication’s homepage where the original article had been prominently published, and the subsequent amendments and Editor’s Note were unlikely to have been brought to the attention of readers of the original article. Accordingly, the Council considered there was a breach of its General Principles 2 and 4.
Relevant Council Standards
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.
4. Ensure that where material refers adversely to a person, a fair opportunity is given for subsequent publication of a reply if that is reasonably necessary to address a possible breach of General Principle 3.”