The Press Council considered a complaint from the Australian Council for Education Research (ACER) about an article in the Gold Coast Bulletin in print on 28 July 2016, headed “Teachers found lacking”.
The brief article (four paragraphs in length) reported that a review conducted by academic consultants on behalf of ACER urged that teachers’ training be subject to a regime similar to that applying to doctors, pilots and lawyers, under which new entrants proceeded in stages under a formal system of supervision and control. The authors of the review argued this would help develop teachers’ personal and motivational skills, build confidence and inspire students’ learning in the classroom.
ACER complained that the headline was inaccurate and misrepresented the finding of the review, which was critical of the structure of the accreditation process but did not find that teachers themselves were “lacking”. ACER said the headline suggested it was engaged in “teacher bashing” rather than in improving standards through better training and accreditation. ACER noted that this article was an abridged form of a longer piece that appeared in a related publication on the same date, though under a different headline which did not carry the same negative connotation.
In response, the publication said the headline was the product of limited space above a short article. There was no intention to denigrate teachers, only to reflect the report’s findings that new teachers needed more supervision and support through the accreditation process. It argued that if accreditation and training were inadequate, it was reasonable to infer as a result that teachers were lacking. The publication noted that it had offered to publish a letter to the editor from ACER to clarify any concerns, but this was not taken up.
The applicable Standards of Practice require that publications take reasonable steps to ensure factual material in news reports and elsewhere is accurate and not misleading (General Principle 1) and is presented with reasonable fairness and balance (General Principle 3), to provide a correction or other adequate remedial action if published material is significantly inaccurate or misleading (General Principle 2), and to ensure that where material refers adversely to a person, a fair opportunity is given for subsequent publication of a reply if reasonably necessary to address a possible breach (General Principle 4).
The accuracy, fairness and balance of the text in the article were not called into question by the complainant. The only issue under consideration by the Council is whether the publication took reasonable steps to ensure the headline met these Standards. The Council considers that the headline implies the review was critical of teachers generally, however it was critical of the accreditation process and training, not of teachers generally. The Council considers that the publication could have sought better detail about the review and expressed the headline in a manner that better reflected its findings. The Council concluded that the publication failed to take reasonable steps to ensure the headline was accurate and not misleading, in breach of General Principle 1. Accordingly, this aspect of the complaint is upheld.
The Council notes that the publication did offer to publish a letter from ACER explaining why the headline did not satisfactorily summarise the review, but ACER chose not avail itself of this opportunity. The Council considered that in doing so, the publication took reasonable steps to offer an adequate remedy in this instance. Accordingly, the Council does not uphold the complaint in relation to General Principle 2.
Given these conclusions, the Council did not consider it necessary to reach a conclusion about other aspects of the complaint.
Relevant Council Standards
This adjudication applies the following General Principles of the Council.
Publications must take reasonable steps to:
1: Ensure that factual material in news reports and elsewhere is accurate and not misleading, and is distinguishable from other material such as opinion.
2. Provide a correction or other adequate remedial action if published material is significantly inaccurate or misleading.
3. Ensure that factual material is presented with reasonable fairness and balance, and that writers’ expressions of opinion are not based on significantly inaccurate factual material or omission of key facts.
4. Ensure that where material refers adversely to a person, a fair opportunity is given for subsequent publication of a reply if that is reasonably necessary to address a possible breach of General Principle 3.