17 Jul 2012The Australian Press Council has considered a complaint about an article headed, "'Rogue' mansion now up for sale" on the front page of the news website, echonetdaily, on 31 January 2012. The article reported that a property which had been controversially approved for redevelopment was now to be sold rather than to be occupied by the owner, Kay Johnston, who obtained the approval.
Kay Johnston complained that the article was inaccurate and unfair because the property was not for sale and was bought for her to live there, not for speculative purposes. She said that the publication made no effort to contact her or her agents before printing the material. She also complained that the publication’s response to her request for a correction and apology was inadequate, too slow and insufficiently prominent.
The publication responded that the article was based on material supplied to it by a residents group and published in good faith. It said that there should have been no adverse affect on the property owner as she was not named in the article. Its delay in publishing the clarification was attributed to checking the facts with the real estate agents whose "for sale" sign was near the property but actually related to a neighbouring house.
The Press Council has concluded that the publication did not take reasonable steps to ensure that the initial report was accurate and that the incorrect implication of speculative motivations was very harmful to the owner. Given the previous controversy, the publication should have called the owner or the agent of the property to check the claim, especially as it had been made by a residents group. Accordingly, the complaint about the article is upheld on the grounds of inaccuracy and unfairness.
The Council has also concluded that there was an undue delay of eleven days between the publication being told of the error and the correction appearing. This delay exacerbated the unfairness of the original article. When published, the brevity of the "clarification" and the title’s lack of clarity about the subject matter meant that it was an inadequate remedy, especially as it was not accompanied by an apology for the egregious error. Accordingly, the complaint about the promptness, prominence and adequacy of the response is upheld.
In light of the careless nature of the initial error, and the publication’s highly unsatisfactory response when the error was pointed out, the Council has also decided to issue a censure to the publication.
Relevant Council Standards (not required to be published):
This adjudication applies the Council’s General Principle 1: “Publications should take reasonable steps to ensure reports are accurate, fair and balanced. They should not deliberately mislead or misinform readers either by omission or commission”; and General Principle 2: "Where it is established that a serious inaccuracy has been published, a publication should promptly correct the error, giving the correction due prominence".