Press Council refuses to investigate The Australian over multiple falsehoods

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The Australian Press Council wimped out of investigating Chris Mitchell's article about Julia Gillard, even though it was full of malicious lies (Image screenshot The Monthly)

The Australian Press Council has declined in investigate an article in The Australian by its former editor, Chris Mitchell, attacking Julia Gillard, despite the piece containing at least five clear errors of fact.

Earlier this month, Alan Austin lodged a complaint with the Australian Press Council against The Australian, as reported by Independent Australia here. He has just received an emailed reply, declining to investigate the article in question.

Here is the reply from the APC:

18 June 2018

Dear Mr Austin,

Re: The Australian article 'ABC pundits exposed by rejecting Gillard - AWU slush fund reports', (Online) 4 June 2018

We refer to your complaint received [on 7 June 2018] concerning the article above.

Your complaint has been processed in accordance with the Council’s secondary complaints-handling process. More information on this process is available here.

In your complaint you express concerns about the accuracy of the article.

You have expressed concern about the following issues:

  • That a bank account was set up by Ms Gillard for the AWU Workplace Reform Association and that the Association was registered as a fund, which you say is incorrect as the bank account was the fund, not the association, and Ms Gillard only assisted in incorporating the association;
  • That Ralph Blewitt admitted his own crimes, which you say never occurred;
  • That Ms Gillard left her employment with Slater and Gordon as a result of her work for Bruce Wilson, which you say is incorrect as an internal Slater and Gordon review found Ms Gillard acted appropriately;
  • That Ms Gillard’s exit interview has previously been produced in 2012, which you say “repeats the fabrication that the interview was a part of disciplinary action leading to Ms Gillard’s dismissal”; and
  • That senior ministers in the Gillard government at the time had grave misgivings about her history, which you say is untrue.

After careful consideration, the Executive Director [John Pender] has decided not to proceed further with the complaint. In reaching this decision, we have taken into consideration that the article is clearly an opinion piece and the views expressed therein are clearly those of the author. Although we appreciate you disagree with the views expressed in the article, the Council takes the view that such articles are entitled to express robust and, at times, provocative views. We are also not satisfied that any statements of fact in the article would be considered so significantly inaccurate or unfair that it is likely that a breach of the Council’s Standards of Practice has occurred.

Although we are not proceeding further with the complaint, the publication will be informed of your concerns about the article.

We realise that this outcome may not be exactly what you hoped to achieve, but we appreciate your concern about compliance with appropriate media standards and we thank you for bringing it to our attention. Apart from the outcomes in specific cases, we do try to learn from the broad pattern of complaints in an effort to improve media standards and to target our educational initiatives.

Kind regards,

[Name supplied]
Complaints Officer
Australian Press Council

[address and phone numbers supplied]

The following is Alan Austin's response:

19 June 2018

Dear [name],

Thank you for your response to this complaint.

I am most disappointed you have decided not to pursue this, as Ms Gillard has been the victim of this campaign for more than ten years now, has been comprehensively cleared by all inquiries, including a full royal commission, and yet The Australian’s attacks continue.

Regarding the specific complaints, your five dot points are correct:

  1. Ms Gillard did not set up or assist in any way to set up any bank account. This has been one of the key falsehoods in The Australian’s campaign from the outset.
  2. Mr Blewitt did not admit to any crime in his 2GB interview. The Australian falsely claims that he did.
  3. Ms Gillard signalled her intention to leave the law firm well before any concerns regarding Messrs Wilson and Blewitt arose.
  4. The recorded interview was not an exit interview. This is another concoction now widely believed.
  5. There is no evidence whatsoever of any “misgivings” by any minister.

There was a sixth falsehood also: that Ms Gillard “had a damaging stain on her record.” Quite false.

Yes, I understand the article in question was an opinion piece, rather than a news story. This is why the complaint specified that your principle 3 was breached, namely:

      “3. Ensure ... that writers’ expressions of opinion are not based on significantly inaccurate factual material or omission of key facts.”

The article in question is about as clear an example as can be imagined of opinions “based on significantly inaccurate factual material”.

That I disagree with “the views expressed in the article” is not material. The complaint was not about his opinions. Only about his assertions of fact, which are clearly false.

It is not correct to assert that “statements of fact in the article would (not) be considered so significantly inaccurate or unfair that it is likely that a breach of the Council’s Standards of Practice has occurred.”

The claim that Ms Gillard “left her employment (with Slater & Gordon) in 1995 over her work for Wilson” is false and damaging. As is any claim she was sacked for whatever reason.

So is the allegation that “senior ministers in the Gillard government at the time had grave misgivings about her history”. None had.

Your decision is particularly disappointing as the Council has already upheld a complaint against two Fairfax articles in this matter, adjudication 1566, despite the falsehoods in those articles being far less damaging to reputations.

Ms Gillard has served Australia and the international community well, and continues to do so. She does not deserve this ongoing campaign of demonstrable multiple falsehoods.

For your interest, further substantiation of the complaint was incorporated into this article at Independent Australia, published shortly after the complaint was lodged.,11578

Yours faithfully,

Alan Austin
Nîmes, France

Independent Australia is a member of The Australian Press Council. This article will be updated to include any further response received by Alan Austin from the Australian Press Council. 

You can follow Alan Austin on Twitter @AlanAustin001.

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