The article referred to a teacher losing her position at a named Catholic girls’ school as a result of a “social media incident”, said to involve a photograph of her holding a bong . The incident had been referred to in a local radio station’s “Rumour File” segment. The WA Today article was accompanied by a stock image of a person apparently smoking a bong. That article suggested a topless photograph of the teacher may also have been behind the loss of her position.
The Council concluded that drugs played no part in the teacher’s resignation and accepted that no photograph of the teacher with a bong or topless existed. As the article had originated from the radio station’s “Rumour File” segment and the allegations were serious, the publication was required to take greater care to establish the facts. In addition, even after the school Principal's denials, the publication repeated the allegations and the article remained online without sufficient remedial action, despite concerns raised by the teacher.
The Council concluded that the publication failed to ensure accuracy and fairness in the initial article and subsequent revisions or to provide adequate remedial action and therefore found a breach of its Standards of Practice.
The Council accepted there is public interest in highlighting the impact of social media on individuals’ professional lives. However, the inaccuracy in the headline and the reporting of unsubstantiated serious allegations that intruded upon the teacher’s privacy and caused her significant distress were not justified in this public interest. Accordingly, the Council also found a breach of its Standards of Practice in this respect.
The article referred to the event as “a meeting organised in support of pro-Russian separatists”. It said the meeting was attended by Mr Lynch and others, including Mr Semyon Boikov the “leader” of the Zabaikal Cossack Society of Australia, and that Mr Boikov spoke “calling for a swift victory in Ukraine by pro-Russian separatists”.
The Council considered the description of the event as being “in support of Pro-Russian separatists” was not accurate. The terms used, including the word “meeting”, implied that Mr Lynch was party to the pro-Russian separatist sentiment. The focus on Mr Lynch’s attendance was compounded by the failure to mention the many other attendees and, as a result, the event was not reported with reasonable fairness or balance. The failure by the publication to seek more accurate information about the event from other sources or to provide more time for the complainant to respond resulted in the material not being presented with reasonable fairness and balance. Accordingly, the Council found a breach of its Standards in this respect.
The Council also noted the revised version, “NSW: Anger as MP poses with man on ASIO list”, maintained a focus on pro-Russian separatist elements and described the event as a “meeting” rather than a traditional St Sava celebration. The revised article also failed to correct inaccurate and unfair aspects of the original article. Accordingly, the Council also found a breach of its Standards about adequate remedial action.