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Our faith in the mainstream media is being sorely tested at the moment — and even more so now the press watchdog has condemned one of its own. Peter Wicks reports.

MANY of the readers here would be familiar with the articles printed in the Herald Sun on the 22 May 2012, in response to Craig Thomson’s address to the parliament.

Those who are unaware of what was in the articles will surely remember the front page, pictured below:


I have always held the belief, and widely shared it, that this article is nothing more than right-wing propaganda. This is not the sort of article that belongs on the front of a major newspaper and it is not the sort of opinion that a company like News Ltd, who controls a massive chunk of Australia’s media, should be printing as if it was fact.

This shocking article was a clear example of what a witch hunt looks like and a text-book case of trial by media. Complete with a trial by a readers’ jury, with a “Reader Verdict” of guilty, this was an example of journalism gone off the rails.

When you read things such as:
‘We asked our own jury if they believed Craig Thomson’s claims.’

I fail to see how anybody could see this as anything other than trial by media.

Those in the media world who believe in the concepts of “innocent until proven guilty” and “balanced debate” appear to be few and far between.

Interestingly, it was the online independent media that decided it may be an idea to look at the facts, and investigate the claims before jumping to rash conclusions. Among the first of those was The Hoopla with the “A Dingo Took My MP” piece, while other online publications such as Independent Australia delved deeper into the facts surrounding the case, with their ongoing “Jacksonville” series of articles, named after the self-proclaimed “whistleblower” and “Joan Of Arc” type character – that has an apparent ego bigger then Ben Hur – Kathy Jackson.

This is the type of reporting that highlights our need for an industry watchdog with some real teeth.

Thankfully, though, the public reacted strongly, deciding that they were not going to be a part of any stacked “reader jury” and flooding the industry watchdog – that many refer to as a “toothless tiger” – with complaints.



On Wednesday, the Australian Press Council released its adjudication, after investigating the complaints from the public. The full adjudication can be found here and it details, in excruciating detail, how the related articles in the Herald Sun were anything but fair and balanced but were, in fact, extremely prejudicial.

When the Australian Press Council states thing like those below, you know there are serious issues:
'The Council has concluded, however, that the overall impact of the front page and page 7 was highly unfair to Mr Thomson by seeking to convey too close an analogy with a courtroom conviction on criminal charges.'

And:
'Publications should take reasonable steps to ensure reports are accurate, fair and balanced.'

The Australian Press Council is made up of 23 representatives – 9 of which are from the mainstream media – and the Council itself is funded by the mainstream media such as News Ltd and Fairfax. So, when a collection of peers funded largely by the publisher of the articles being adjudicated say that the articles are irresponsible, you would hope for more than just a small article printed in the original publication.

I thought a front page apology would have been far more fitting.

This adjudication is like the Melbourne Storm saying another team’s breach of the salary cap is outrageous. It’s like Gina Rinehart saying people who inherit fortunes are worthless. Jeez, this is like Tony Abbott calling Julia Gillard a sexist.

These articles in the Herald Sun, with the most outrageous illustration perhaps ever seen in an Australian newspaper – which have now been deemed irresponsible – set the caustic and incendiary tone for the whole debate on this subject. They caused a lot of harm.

Not only that, much of Craig's speech holds water now.

Trial by media?

I hope Craig Thomson has a good defamation lawyer.

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