The Press Council considered a complaint from Senator Richard Di Natale about a print article published in The Daily Telegraph on 22 July 2019, headed “Greens put wind up farm”.
The article reported on a proposed wind farm on Robbins Island in Tasmania. It began, “The Greens are opposing a proposed wind farm in Tasmania which would inject $5 billion into the economy and produce 100 megawatts of clean energy into the grid”. The article went on to include a quote from Australian Greens Party leader Senator Richard Di Natale and stated that he “supported Dr Bob Brown’s concerns” over the proposed wind farm.
The complainant said the article was inaccurate and misleading, as at no time has the Australian Green Party opposed the proposed wind farm. The complainant also said that Dr Brown was no longer in any position of leadership in the party, he had no authority over the party’s national position, nor did he represent the complainant’s position. The complainant said that the publication did not contact his office prior to publication of the article about the party’s position. The complainant said that he contacted the publication immediately after the article appeared and informed it that the article was inaccurate and asked for publication of a correction, however the publication refused. Although the publication later offered to publish a response, the complainant did not accept this because he regarded it as an error requiring correction.
The publication said that the article was accurate and not misleading. It said Dr Brown’s opposition to the project was well publicised and noted that the party leader had referred to Dr Brown’s comments in stating that the party would not support the project without a strict planning process being followed. The publication said it was therefore natural to conclude that the party opposed the windfarm. It also referred to a Press Release issued by the Tasmanian Minister for Energy and a number of articles published by different publications which it said reflected a consensus view that the party opposed the project. It also said that after the complaint was made to the Council, the publication offered the complainant a 400-word opinion piece to clarify his and the party’s position on the wind farm, which the complainant declined.
The Council’s Standards of Practice applicable in this matter require publications to take reasonable steps to ensure factual material is accurate and not misleading (General Principle 1) and presented with reasonable fairness and balance (General Principle 3). If the material is significantly inaccurate or misleading, or refers adversely to a person, publications must take reasonable steps to provide adequate remedial action or an opportunity for a response to be published (General Principles 2 and 4).
The Council accepts that the views of Dr Brown are not those of the Australian Green Party and that while the party sought a strict planning process it did not unconditionally oppose the wind farm. The Council considers that the statement “The Greens are opposing a proposed wind farm in Tasmania…” implied that it unconditionally opposed the wind farm and this part of the article was inaccurate. The Council notes the material relied on by the publication as a basis for the statement that the party opposed the wind farm. However, the Council considers that in the absence of verifying the position directly with the party, the publication failed to take reasonable steps to ensure accuracy.
Accordingly, the publication failed to take the reasonable steps appropriate to ensure that the statement was accurate, not misleading and fair and balanced. Accordingly, the Council concludes that the Publication breached General Principles 1 and 3.
As to remedial action, the Council accepts that after the article appeared the complainant contacted the publication to advise it of the inaccuracy and requested a correction. The Council considers that the inaccuracy in the report was substantial and that in failing to publish a correction the publication failed to take reasonable steps to provide appropriate remedial action. The Council notes that after a complaint was made to the Council, the publication offered publication of a response, however given the nature of the inaccuracy and the time which had elapsed, the publication also breached General Principle 4.
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.