Press Council upholds two complaints re AWU affair

By Barry Tucker                    20 September, 2013

The Press Council has upheld two complaints by Melbourne law firm Slater & Gordon relating to stories about the so-called AWU affair.

The complaints relate to articles written by Fairfax Media’s Editor-at-Large Mark Baker. The stories appeared in Fairfax Media’s The Age,The Sydney Morning Herald and The Canberra Times on 13 October, 2012.

The council’s ruling refers to the “publication” and does not name the journalist. In part, the ruling said:

“The Council has concluded that the publication failed to take reasonable steps to ensure fairness in the report in relation to whether the firm held a file on incorporation of the association. Even if the story is interpreted as having done no more than report allegations, rather than endorse them, their gravity was such that the firm should have been given a reasonable opportunity to respond prior to publication. The legal correspondence relied on by the publication did not provide sufficiently strong grounds for its failure to do so. The Council has also concluded that failure to seek comment for fear of triggering an injunction may be justifiable in some circumstances but in this instance the risk of an injunction did not relate to the statements in question and they could readily have been checked with the firm. Accordingly, the complaint about the report is upheld on these grounds.”

Complaints about three other statements in the articles were not upheld by the council.

News media that signs up to and submits to the council’s adjudications are required to publish the council’s rulings. The ruling was reported in Fairfax Media newspapers, the Michael Smith blog, the online magazines Independent Australia, and elsewhere.

The article is behind the pay wall, but you can sign up for a free one-month subscription. Mr Baker replied to the report with a statement that Independent Australia describes as “bizarre”.

You can read the Independent Australia story here and Mr Baker’s statement to here.

Read the Press Council’s ruling in full here.

Other Press Council rulings can be found here.

Mark Baker

Mark Baker

Mark Baker’s profile, from The Age online: Mark Baker is a former Managing Editor (National) of Fairfax Metro Media, Senior Editor of The Age and Editor of The Canberra Times. He spent more than 13 years as a staff correspondent in Asia, covering the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is a former Political Editor and Canberra Bureau Chief of The Age.

A few hours after posting the above story, Michael Smith advised me that the Press Council had issued a further Notice relating to some of the reporting of its findings. The council took exception to a statement that the journalist in questions [sic] had “fabricated evidence”, as claimed on one website.

You can read the Press Council’s further Notice, or Update, here.

On his website, Michael Smith commented on Mark Baker and Slater & Gordon under the headline: “Mark Baker — verballed by people who do what they falsely accuse Mark of doing”.

His brief story included a reproduction of the council’s further Notice and a link to the original. Some comments appear below the story.

26 September. reports that Mark Baker is not happy with the Press Council ruling, which he says is “flawed and illogical”. Mr Baker underscores his anger by saying “The council would be greatly improved if they banned people with a preference for cardigans and twin-sets from membership.”

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