The Australian Press Council has considered a complaint by Fast Access Finance Pty Ltd about a report in The Courier Mail, Brisbane, on 16 November 2011 headed Queensland battler Rachael Charter wins loan case against Fast Access Finance. The report concerned a decision by the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) that a short-term loan arrangement between the company and Ms Charter and her partner exceeded the 48% maximum interest rate permissible under Queensland law.
Fast Access Finance complained to the Council that the report could prejudice an appeal, especially as the appeal might be heard by a non-judicial member of the tribunal. The company also claimed the report incorrectly said the tribunal had found that she faced repayment charges equating to 300 per cent per annum and had lost her home due to the need to make repayments. In fact, it heard evidence to that effect but made no such findings. It further complained that a quote from Ms Charter was inconsistent with what she said to the tribunal and was not part of the findings.
The Courier-Mail noted that the tribunal proceedings were open to the public and it was entitled to report them in the same way as applies to an open court hearing even where an appeal is pending. It conceded the two inaccuracies alleged by the company and offered to correct them. It said the quotation, however, was accurate and was not reported as having been said to, or endorsed by, the tribunal.
The Press Council concluded that the report of a tribunal proceeding even when an appeal is pending is normal practice and the possibility of the appeal being heard by a non-judicial member does not justify suppression of the report for fear of prejudice. Accordingly, that aspect of the complaint is not upheld.
The Council concluded that, as conceded by the newspaper, there were two inaccuracies in the article which should be corrected. Those aspects of the complaint, therefore, are upheld. It concluded that the quote from Ms Charter was not misleading because it was not presented as having been made to or endorsed by the tribunal. Accordingly that aspect of the complaint was not upheld.
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 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.”