The Australian Press Council has considered a complaint by Dr Adam Black about an article in The Advertiser, Adelaide, on 1 June 2011, headlined, in the print edition, First look at Australia's new home for illegal immigrants and First look at Australia's new home for illegal immigrants in Malaysia online.
The article used the term "illegal Immigrant" in the very prominent headline and the first sentence as a generic description for people seeking to enter Australia by boat without a visa. In recent years, the great majority of these entrants intended to seek asylum here and most were successful.
Dr Black complained that this usage was inaccurate and, because it was pejorative, unfair. He had complained earlier to the newspaper, seeking an apology, but had received no reply. He pointed out that the usage was contrary to two previous Advisory Guidelines by the Council, an adjudication in 2004 about its use by the same newspaper, and a an adjudication in 2011 relating to another newspaper.
The newspaper replied that its policy was not to use the term "illegal immigrant" in this context, preferring "asylum seeker" or "unlawful arrival". It attributed its use in this instance to a new sub-editor who was not familiar with this policy. It regretted the lack of a reply to Dr Black.
The Press Council concluded that, as it had previously indicated on several occasions, the term “illegal immigrants” was inaccurate and unfair as a generic description for people arriving by boat without a visa. It expressed great concern that The Advertiser’s internal systems had not been sufficient to prevent its use, especially given the newspaper’s own policy, and had led to its failure to respond adequately to the initial complaint. The newspaper should have responded immediately with a retraction and/or an apology. Accordingly, the complaint is upheld on these grounds.
The Council noted that, after discussion with it, News Limited in February 2012 directed all its editors that "illegal immigrants" was not appropriate as a generic description for people of this kind. This directive applies to The Advertiser and the Council called on it to publish a prominent notice to that effect for the benefit of its readers.
Note (not required for publication by the newspaper):
This adjudication applies part of the Council’s General Principle 1: “Publications should take reasonable steps to ensure reports are accurate, fair and balanced… ” and also 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.”