AAP news agency threatens legal action

By Barry Tucker                    19 September, 2013

The operator of a Facebook page, People for Schapelle Corby’s Page, says the news agency AAP has threatened a citizen with legal action following a series of exchanges.

The unnamed citizen originally complained to AAP about a reference in an ABC news story to Ms Corby being fined for “secondary indiscretions in jail”.

An AAP journalist responded:

“After reading the ABC story attached to your complaint, it is clear to me that the ABC has altered what AAP reported, but attributed the ABC’s reporting of this case to AAP.  I “NEVER” reported that Schapelle Corby had been fined for “secondary indiscretions”. I only ever reported what the Bali Prosecutor’s office told AAP, which was that the fine paid last week was a condition of Corby’s original sentence.”

This cartoon appeared on the Facebook page.

This cartoon appeared on the Facebook page.

The ABC News/Radio Australia/Australia Network reported the story under this headline:

Indonesian reports suggest prison warden has signed review of Corby parole

The ABC story was first posted on Wed 11 Sep 2013, 1:20am AEST. It was updated Tue 17 Sep 2013, 6:12pm AEST and this footnote was added:

[Editor’s note: (September 17) Our original article incorrectly reported that Schapelle Corby had been fined for “secondary indiscretions in jail” and attributed the information to Australian Associated Press (AAP)]

But this story, on the ABC’s Radio Australia website, contains the original error. It has not been corrected and does not carry the Editor’s note quoted above.

It seems that only the ABC misinterpreted the AAP story, apparently mistaking “secondary” for a second offence while in jail. The $A10,000 fine was part of the original sentence.

A Google search result shows numerous news outlets reported the fine had been paid, but none refers to a secondary offence while in jail.

On 10 September, 2013, BigPond News online website reported the fine being paid and, after beating up the intro, attributed the story to AAP.

Another report of Schapelle Corby’s relatives paying her fine appeared on SBBCNews.com, on 10 September, 2013. The story was bylined By Pazis, but the source was attributed to WAToday.com.au (a Fairfax website):

Corby pays $10,000 cash ahead of parole By  on Sep 10, 2013

Yahoo!7 News published a video report on the story at 6.02am on 11 September, 2013, but that video may have expired because it will not download.

You can read the Facebook account of the affair here.

Comment: News organisations are sensitive about accusations of inaccuracy because it goes directly to perceptions of their reliability. In this case, the ABC corrected its error, although it took a week to do that. In other cases, notably criticism of the former federal Labor government and former PM Julia Gillard in particular, the ABC has resisted admitting to mistakes, bias or unfairness and to apologising for them. This attitude does not serve the organisation’s best interests.

The Facebook entry says the citizen complained to the ABC’s Managing Director, Mark Scott, and the entire board, asking for an explanation, and demanding an apology to Schapelle Corby and her family.

No response had been received by this afternoon. A response is not likely either because the ABC’s complaints procedure was not followed. Those procedures, or links to them, can be found on this resource centre. See Regulatory Bodies, or the ABC entries.

I am trying to get a copy of the AAP email so that I can judge the level of the threat of legal action. The Facebook entry says an injunction was referred to. It may be that AAP, which was not responsible for the error made by the ABC, feels the volume and strength of the exchange of correspondence was excessive. This is a symptom of the frustration that people are experiencing in dealing with Australia’s news media and the diversity of the complaints procedures. Given the nature of the new federal government, this is likely to get worse rather than improve.