Mr Jack Herman
Australian Press Council
117 York Street
SYDNEY NSW 2000
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.