Wednesday, 7 September 2011

The West Australian newspaper gets a well deserved rap on the knuckles

Press Council of Australia Adjudication No. 1502: Kate Swanton/The West Australian (August 2011)

Document Type:
12 Aug 2011
The Australian Press Council has considered a complaint by Kate Swanton about an article in The West Australian on 17 March 2011 concerning the transfer of some asylum seekers from Christmas Island to Darwin after a “riot” on the island on 16 March. The article stated that “the transfer to Darwin of the core group of troublemakers” happened after “immigration officials caved in to their demands”.
Ms Swanton complained that the article was inaccurate and unfair. She pointed out that on the same morning as the article appeared the Immigration Minister denied that the transferred people were the organisers of the actions by asylum seekers or were “the core group of troublemakers”. He said that he would have made this denial earlier if he had been asked.
Ms Swanton also complained that a number of letters to the editor published on 21 March assumed the article to be true and made very strong criticisms of the transfer to Darwin, but the newspaper took no action to correct or clarify the article by mentioning the Minister’s denial.
The newspaper responded that the principal author of the report witnessed asylum seekers boarding a plane to Darwin and obtained the information from “sources in the Australian Federal Police and the Immigration Department that the people boarding the flight had been involved in the riots”. It added that the report did not describe those on the flight as “organisers” or “ringleaders” of the riot, but as “a core group”, and that the Minister had said some of them were possibly involved in the riots.
The Council has concluded the article’s assertion that the people flown to Darwin were “the core group of troublemakers” does not accurately reflect what the newspaper says it was told, namely that they “had been involved in the riots”. It notes also that the article gave the views of an official spokesperson for the Immigration Department on another matter but did not do so on this issue despite its central importance.
The Council has also concluded that the situation was aggravated when the newspaper did not report the Immigration Minister’s subsequent denial of its assertion but published several letters to the editor all of which relied on the assertion and protested that the transferred people had been "rewarded" for leading the “rampage”. In consequence, the newspaper’s coverage of the issue was unfair and unbalanced.
Accordingly, Ms Swanton’s complaint has been upheld.

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