The Press Council has considered a complaint about an article published on 2 August 2013 on page 1 of The Courier Mail with the heading Kev’s $733m bank heist, continuing on page 6 as Rudd’s raid on our savings. It also appeared online, with a different heading.
The article was published on the day the Rudd Government announced a decision to establish a Financial Stability Fund and impose a levy on banks set at 0.05 per cent on the first $250,000 in any deposit account. The front page featured a digitally-altered image of then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd as a bank robber holding a sack of money. Above the main headline was a smaller heading which read, Tax on beer, cigs … and now your savings. The first sentence of the article on page 6 and online read “Bank customers will be forced to help prop up the Rudd government’s budget…”
Ian Seddon and another person complained that the headlines and image did not accurately represent the Government’s policy which was to establish a levy on banks to protect depositors against collapse. They also said that the print version of the article unfairly represented the policy by not mentioning it had been recommended by the Council of Financial Regulators and would be administered by the Future Fund Management Agency or the Australian Office of Financial Management. It was also claimed that it was inaccurate to say that customers “will be forced” to contribute to the budget measure.
The publication said that the policy would in effect be a levy on savings as in all likelihood it would be passed on by banks to depositors. It said the article explained how the levy would be imposed, and Government sources consulted prior to publication had explicitly acknowledged that if it was passed on by the banks, it would reduce the interest earned on a deposit of $10,000 by about 50 cents a month. The article had also reported that the Australian Bankers’ Association had said, “it is ultimately likely to be passed on to customers”. The publication said that the article correctly reported that the Government’s projected income of $733 million between 1 January 2016 and July 2017 would help reduce the Budget deficit; accordingly, it was appropriate to describe the measure as “Kev’s $733m bank heist”. It said the image was clearly satirical in nature and was marked as being digitally altered.
The publication also said that the article was published before the Government announcement was made, so full details were not available at the time of publication, but the online version (which did not have the same space restrictions) had included a reference to Australia being one of only a few countries that does not have a “deposit insurance scheme”. Independent proposals in support of such a scheme were mentioned in the online version of the article as well as in an editorial and a report in the Business section, both published in the print edition on the same day. There was a pointer to these two articles on page 6. A column published the following day also referred to the recommendation of international finance authorities, while a column the day after referred to Treasurer Chris Bowen believing it was the right thing to do.
The Council’s Principles state that publications should take reasonable steps to ensure reports are accurate, fair and balanced. While the Bankers’ Association had said it was “likely” the costs would be passed on to customers, and government sources had provided an indication of costs to customers “if” they were passed on, these possible outcomes did not justify the certainty in the article’s reference to “bank customers” in the expression “bank customers will be forced to help prop up the Rudd Government’s budget” or in the headline references to a tax on “your savings” and “our savings”. Accordingly, the complaint is upheld in respect of the statement and headline references mentioned above.
The Council considers the image and the reference to a “bank heist” were not so unfair as to constitute a breach of its Principles. It also considers there was sufficient information in the article on the Government’s stated purpose for the scheme, and there was information on the various independent recommendations in other material published in the paper that day and in the two following days. These aspects of the complaint are not upheld.
Relevant Council Standards (not required for publication):
This adjudication applies 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”.