Mar 18, 2009

Crikey’s Complaint to the Press Council in the Pauline Hanson Photographs Affair

Mr Jack Herman Executive Secretary Australian Press Council Suite 10.02 117 York Street SYDNEY NSW 2000 18 March 2009 Dear Mr Herman, We wish to lodge a complaint over t

Margaret Simons

Journalist, author and director of the Centre for Advanced Journalism

Mr Jack Herman
Executive Secretary
Australian Press Council
Suite 10.02
117 York Street

18 March 2009

Dear Mr Herman,

We wish to lodge a complaint over the publication on 15 March 2009 by News Limited Sunday newspapers of pictures purporting to be political candidate Pauline Hanson.

At the time of writing, it seems likely that the photographs published were not in fact of Ms Hanson. We nevertheless understand that at the time they were published the editors concerned believed that they were of her. The editors therefore made a decision to invade Ms Hanson’s privacy in a manner which we believe clearly breaches both the council’s Privacy Standards and Principles. We believe News Limited must be held to account for this, and that the principles concerned need to be the subject of an adjudication by the Press Council. That is the reason for this complaint.

We understand that under the Press Council’s Privacy Standards only the subject of an invasion of privacy can lodge a complaint. We regard this as a shortcoming in the process since Ms Hanson is unlikely to lodge a complaint, given that she says the photos are not of her.

We nevertheless believe that there are important issues to be considered, and adjudicated.

If we were able to lodge this complaint under the Privacy Standards, the section we would be using would be 1. Collection of personal information, which states in part:

Public figures necessarily sacrifice their right to privacy, where public scrutiny is in the public interest. However, public figures do not forfeit their right to privacy altogether. Intrusion into their right to privacy must be related to their public duties or activities.

Given that we cannot lodge the complaint under Privacy Standards, we fall back on the Press Council’s general statement of principles, particularly number 4.

News and comment should be presented honestly and fairly, and with respect for the privacy and sensibilities of individuals. However, the right to privacy is not to be interpreted as preventing publication of matters of public record or obvious or significant public interest. Rumour and unconfirmed reports should be identified as such.

We believe that News Limited has failed to respect the privacy and sensibilities of individuals in this case, and that there was no matter of public interest to justify the publication.

Other parts of the Press Council’s principles which may be relevant in this case, and on which the Council may wish to adjudicate, include 1., 2., and 7.

1. Publications should take reasonable steps to ensure reports are accurate, fair and balanced. They should not deliberately mislead or misinform readers either by omission or commission.

2. Where it is established that a serious inaccuracy has been published, a publication should promptly correct the error, giving the correction due prominence.

7. Publications have a wide discretion in publishing material, but they should balance the public interest with the sensibilities of their readers, particularly when the material, such as photographs, could reasonably be expected to cause offence.

However, it is Clause 4 and the privacy issue which we are most concerned about, and on which we specifically seek an adjudication.

We note that the Press Council can refuse to hear complaints when legal action is likely. We do not intend to take any legal action. If Ms Hanson takes action, it will be under Defamation, not privacy, since she says the photos are not of her. Remedies in law are not yet available for breach of privacy, due to the exemption of media under the Federal Privacy Act.

We think the possibility that Ms Hanson might sue for defamation should not prevent the Press Council from adjudicating on the important matter of privacy, particularly since it is the Press Council Privacy Standards that are the means by which media organisations gain exemption from federal privacy legislation.

We also understand that it is normal to require complainants to raise the subject of their complaint with the publication concerned before seeking Press Council action.

We would argue that this has, in effect, already been done. Both Crikey, the ABC Media Watch program and other publications have been “raising this matter”. On 17 March Crikey contacted News Limited’s Director of Corporate Affairs, Greg Baxter, seeking comment, and published the result.

We would therefore ask that this normal element of the procedure be waived in this matter.

We attach copies of the publication we are complaining about, and Crikey’s previous articles on this matter.

Yours sincerely,

Jonathan Green
Editor, Crikey.com.au

Margaret Simons
Media Commentator

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9 thoughts on “Crikey’s Complaint to the Press Council in the Pauline Hanson Photographs Affair

  1. The Honeysuckle and the Bindweed – the Future of the Australian Press Council – The Content Makers

    […] issue was whether the photos were or were not of Hanson. You can read the history of our complaint here and […]

  2. Back to Blogging, Mark Day and Stale News – The Content Makers

    […] last March, was reported on at length at the time, and the text of the complaint was reproduced on this blog. Day seems to have missed all that. He writes as though the news is fresh, and that Crikey’s […]

  3. Pauline Hanson and the Crikey Complaint - The Content Makers

    […] In particular, will the Australian Press Council decide that it need no longer consider the complaint on privacy grounds made by myself and Crikey editor Jonathan Green? […]

  4. pessimist


  5. Press Council accepts Hanson complaint as S Tele editor insists he did the right thing | mUmBRELLA

    […] from Crikey’s editor and media commentator Jonathan Green and Margaret Simons. The pair wrote to the Press Council on Wednesday, complaining that the paper had intended to invade her privacy by publishing the images, although […]

  6. Jack Robertson

    ‘You’re not ‘persons of interest’?

    Bullshit. Every journalist in Australia is a ‘person of interest’ when it comes to the egregious self-harm to the viability of journalism as a whole that is done by peurile, cynical and self-interested abuses of the media’s privileges, such as this one by Breen. Good doctors don’t ignore gross breaches of professional practise by peers simply because they are not directly involved. Neither do good lawyers, politicians, plumbers, teachers, police, builders, defence personnel, academics, business executives….no real grown-up stands by and pretends that behaviour that harms society is ‘none of their business’, just because they’re not directly involved.

    Episodes like this are THE main reason journalism’s and journalists’ reputations are in the toilet. For journalists and journalism, reputation is a, if not the, key asset in the viability stakes. This is a matter of professional self-protection at heart. The reason good working journalists are being sacked today is because lazy Murdochian grubs like Sheen have been taking the fast, cheap track to filling their pages and shifting units for three decades, publishing crap like this rather than work a bit harder and with more integrity. As a result we are turning away from ALL journalism.

    Kudos to Crikey for grasping what every other profession/trade/vocation has known for centuries: the ONLY people capable of maintaining standards within a given working field – including where necessary by purging those who repeatedly fail to maintain them – are the workers in that field themselves. Journalists alone are responsible for any decline in journalism standards. Journalists alone can do something about them. This is a good start. Good luck, Crikey. Any journalist who gives a shit about their own work, including those at News, ought to have the guts to out themselves in support.

    Margaret Simons, I suggest that the logical outrider to this complaint to be an aggressive ‘on the record’ pursuit by Crikey of senior Australian journalists, asking whether they support your complaint, oppose it, or even make ‘no comment’. Time to flush them out: where do the alleged leaders of journalism stand on maintaining standards in their own game, and who among them is prepared to shoulder some of the specific explicit public obligation of leadership that the elders in every other working environment embrace as a matter of uncontroversial course?

  7. skepticlawyer » A tort of invasion of privacy for Australia?

    […] II:┬áIn what appears to be an attempt to head the lawyers off at the pass, Margaret Simons has gone to the Press Council on the privacy issue. For my part, I think this is shaping up to be a relatively open and shut […]

  8. jonb2

    Not “persons of interest” maybe “interested party”?

  9. jonb2

    Not a hope. You’re not “persons of interest”.

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