What can be complained about?
Types of material
Complaints may relate to news reports, articles, editorials, letters, cartoons, images and other published material. The Council does not consider complaints about advertising material, except where the complaint is that the material is not clearly identifiable as advertising.
Where it is more appropriate for a complaint to be dealt with by another organisation, the Council will suggest that the complainant raises the matter with that organisation. This may occur where, for example, the complaint relates to advertising, or to broadcasts on radio or television.
Types of publications
The Council considers complaints about material published in print or digital form by publishers which are “constituent bodies” of the Council. It can also consider complaints about the methods used by publications to obtain information which is subsequently published.
Most Australian newspapers and magazines, and their associated digital outlets, are constituent bodies. So are some of the leading digital-only publishers. See the full list here. The only major newspaper which is not published by a constituent body is The West Australian.
The Council may also consider complaints about material published by other publishers. But, unlike constituent bodies, those publishers are not under a legal obligation to cooperate with the Council or to publish any adjudication by it.
The Council will not consider complaints about articles published by a Global Digital Publisher if the article does not relate to events within Australia, or does not concern an Australian national, or resident at the time of publication, who is ‘directly and personally affected’ by an alleged breach of the Council’s standards of practice.
Complaints are treated by the Council as being against the publication, not any individual journalist or editor. But in most complaints the Council’s consideration is likely to focus on the actions of journalists, editors or other media practitioners.
Who can complain?
In general, any person may lodge a complaint about published material. Unless there are exceptional circumstances, the Council will not consider complaints by one publisher member of the Council against another.
Where a complainant is not personally identified or directly affected by the published material, the complaint will be considered as a “secondary complaint” and some different procedures will apply (see Handling of Complaints).
When can a complaint be made?
Complaints should be made by completing the Council’s Complaint Form and sending it to the Council preferably online or by email.
Types of material
A person can complain to the Council
- after complaining to the relevant publication; or
- at the same time as a complaint is made to the publication; or
- without having complained to the publication.
Where a complaint is made directly to the Council, it may decide to
- commence its consideration of the complaint; or
- in some circumstances, ask the complainant to raise the complaint directly with the publication and then come back to the Council if its further involvement is sought.
Social media posts associated with a publication
Due to the nature of social media commentary, the Council considers that a publication should be provided with a reasonable opportunity to resolve concerns with a social media post directly with its readers.
Complaints concerning social media posts can often be resolved quickly once the publication becomes aware of a reader's concerns. In some circumstances, the Council may consider a complaint about a social media post further if a complainant has not been able to resolve a complaint directly with the publisher.
Complaints normally should be made within thirty days of the first publication of the relevant material. Where appropriate, a complaint can be made with a request that the Council delays consideration of it until a specified event (e.g. recovery from serious illness)
Where the complaint is lodged out of time, the complainant must seek approval for consideration, on the basis of one or more of the following:
- there was a reasonable justification for the complainant not having previously noticed the material; or
- the complaint involves a number of articles over a lengthy period; or
- the complainant had spent time unsuccessfully seeking a response from the publication; or
- there were other good grounds for delaying submission of a complaint.
The Council does not require complainants to undertake that they will not commence legal proceedings in relation to the material about which they are complaining. But they must tell the Council if they have done so or may do so.
If proceedings have actually been commenced, consideration of the complaint by the Council should not proceed unless there are special circumstances which mean that a delay would be unfairly detrimental to the complainant.
How can a complaint be made?
Complaints should be made by completing the Council’s Complaint Form and sending it to the Council preferably online, or by email, fax or post. The contact details are on the form.
If it is difficult or impossible for a complainant to make a written complaint by using the online or downloadable complaint form, they may contact the Council for advice and assistance.
Legal and other professional representatives
The Council’s complaints process is intended to be as informal, prompt and economical as possible. Complaints must be made and pursued by complainants or their immediate family unless there are exceptional circumstances. Complainants and publications are not normally permitted to communicate with the Council through lawyers.
Complainants must indicate when making a complaint if they wish some details to be kept confidential from the publication or not to be published in any Council adjudication on the matter. The Council will then explain circumstances in which this may be possible and the complainant can decide whether to proceed with the complaint.
Managing Unreasonable Complaints and Complainants
The APC has a legislative responsibility to provide a safe working environment for all its staff including those involved in handling complaints. The APC expects all complainants to treat APC staff with courtesy and respect. It will not tolerate communications and conduct that put its staff and members at risk of physical or mental harm.
The APC’s Policy for Managing Unreasonable Complaints and Complainants can be found here.