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News Corp's shoddy 'journalism' again dominates Press Council complaints

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Cartoon by Mark David/@markdavidcartoons

Australia’s media watchdog found more than two-thirds of all complaints upheld for violations of the media code of ethics in 2021 were against News Corp, Alan Austin reports.

AUSTRALIANS WILL BE SAFER, healthier, happier and much better informed when Rupert Murdoch’s malevolent media empire eventually disappears.

That appears to be the message from last year’s adjudications by the Australian Press Council (APC).

The Herald Sun ran a story in late 2020 headlined:

‘Allergy warning over Pfizer COVID vaccine.'

The dramatic sub-heading in bold type asserted ‘SIX PEOPLE DIED DURING PFIZER TRIAL’. Those who read further were told that two of the deceased had taken the vaccine, but the other four had taken the placebo.

After a complaint that such deception puts community safety at risk, the APC ruled that:

‘... by implying in the headline that the deaths were or could have been due to the vaccine, the publication failed to take steps to ensure factual material is not misleading ...’

The Australian ran a cartoon in August 2020 which drew then-U.S. presidential candidate Joe Biden saying 'it’s time to heal a nation divided by racism' followed by 'so I’ll hand you over to this little brown girl while I go for a lie down'.

The APC smacked down The Australian concluding that:

‘... the prejudice to women and particularly women of colour which the cartoon contributes to is substantial ...’ 

The Sunday Telegraph ran an appallingly racist article in June 2020 dealing with the Black Lives Matter protests and black deaths in custody.

The article said:

‘The reality in this country – and the U.S. – is that the greatest danger to aboriginals and negroes is themselves [and that until] we address this issue, protests damning white police officers are nebulous’. 

The Council found that:

‘... the article drew on factual material about deaths and family violence amongst Indigenous people not related to police behaviour or deaths in custody.'

Further, it omitted:

‘Reference to well-documented societal factors contributing to Indigenous community and family dysfunction including unemployment and poverty, poor housing and overcrowding, and poor education and health ...’

The APC concluded that the Murdoch newspaper ‘failed to take reasonable steps to avoid causing substantial offence, distress or prejudice, without sufficient justification in the public interest'.

The Australian, it seems, just cannot get over its burning hatred of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. An article in its print and online editions falsified Rudd’s substantial achievements on Australia-China relations.

It asserted:

‘The decision by Rudd and his then foreign minister, Stephen Smith, to unilaterally kill the Quad  [Quadrilateral Dialogue between the USA, Japan, India and Australia] in 2008, to please Beijing, was one of the most foolish and counter-productive foreign policy moves of any modern Australian government.’

The APC condemned the article comprehensively, finding that the Rudd Government did not "kill" the Quad, unilaterally or otherwise. Nor were the other vicious attacks against Rudd factually accurate. It concluded that The Australian breached the media standards relating to truthfulness at several points.

Murdoch the main offender

Once again, most of the APC’s time last year was spent on complaints against the one media organisation: the Murdoch family’s News Corp.

Of the 27 complaints fully investigated, 19 were against Murdoch publications. That’s 70%. Of the twenty articles found to breach the standards, 14 were from News Corp. Also 70%.

The last time IA analysed APC outcomes, in September 2020, only 62% of adverse findings were from Murdoch outlets. So it appears they may be getting worse, not better.

Specific standards trashed

The APC found the 14 offending Murdoch articles violated its principles 24 times. Principle 1 – ensuring factual material is accurate – was breached five times. Principle 3 – fair opinions based on accurate facts – eight times. Principle 4 – giving a fair right of reply – twice.

Principle 5 – not publishing the method and location of a suicide – was also contravened twice. Principle 6 – preventing offence, distress or risk to health and safety – was breached seven times.

That is truly appalling.

The way forward

It’s depressing that after 46 years of Press Council pressure News Corp’s deliberate deceptions continue, there is hope. What the APC tries to achieve with public censure and journals like IA pursue with detailed factual analysis, others attempt with satire and humour.

The final APC adjudication for 2021 was of a complaint made by investigative journalist and YouTube comedian Jordan Shanks following a malicious attack piece by “journalist” James O’Doherty in The Daily Telegraph.

While the APC correctly pinged The Telegraph for breaching principle 3 several times, it did not find against the publication for using unnamed sources nor for criticisms of Shanks based on comments clearly taken out of context.

Shanks did not settle for this tepid technical win. He made a devastating 12-minute Friendlyjordies video which ripped into The Telegraph and its “pathetic, quivering attack dogs that masquerade as guard dogs”.

The video incorporated factual data, creative graphics, withering ridicule and an excruciatingly embarrassing recording of O’Doherty’s phone call with Shanks’ gatekeeper.

Shanks has also made highly entertaining videos skewering The Examiner’s Rob Ingliss, Sky’s James James Morrow, Nine’s and others who have written hit-pieces attacking him. Shanks confirmed to IA that, after his devastating responses, none of them has come back for more.

Whereas the APC has a small online audience, Shanks has one of Australia’s highest. Those four videos have received almost two million views, holding the media to account.

We all have some means at our disposal to combat Murdoch’s malice, even if only boycotting the companies which advertise in his publications. Whatever the strategy, it's a worthy pursuit.

Alan Austin is an Independent Australia columnist and freelance journalist. You can follow him on Twitter @alanaustin001.

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