Daily Telegraph busted again!
The Australian Press Council has upheld a complaint about a report in The Daily Telegraph in which one thousand bicyclists on a Sydney protest ride, which blocked city peak hour traffic for an hour, were described as "selfish fools". The mobile phone number of the ride organiser was published in a headline so that motorists could complain to him personally.
The headline urged readers to ring or text the phone number, as a result of which the organiser received some two hundred calls, one hundred and forty of them abusive or threatening.
The bicycle ride was organised by Critical Mass, a loosely structured international cycling group whose stated aim is to improve city environments through better urban transport planning.
The Telegraph's report was unfair in that the use of such phrases as "selfish fools" in a news report did not distinguish between fact and opinion and that the publication of the organiser's phone number was a blatant breach of privacy.
The newspaper agreed that an opinion had indeed been expressed in the news story but argued that this is now done routinely. It said that the justification for publishing the organiser's phone number was that Critical Mass had no contact or head office, denying motorists the opportunity to complain to the group. The complainant told the Council that Critical Mass had a 24 hour internet info line where anyone could leave comments.
In an era of journalism where commentary increasingly trespass upon news reports, fact and opinion need to be distinguishable.
The introduction of opinion into a news report makes it essential for the report to provide all the facts necessary for readers to judge the validity of the opinion. This news article fails this test. No comment was published from government or the police who permitted the protest ride. The opinion expressed in the report is not a breach of the Council's principles in that, by its obvious bias, it distinguishes itself as that of the authors who are clearly identified by their bylines.
However, the Council's principles say that where individuals or groups are singled out for criticism, news reports must be fair and balanced. Since only the cyclists were criticised in the article, without publication of a balancing response, the Council considers the report was not balanced and upholds this part of the complaint.
Regarding the second leg of the complaint it is difficult to imagine a more grievous invasion of individual's privacy than to print their phone number in a headline and then encourage readers to call and complain. That the newspaper subsequently published five letters to the editor, all critical of the bike protest, demonstrated that there was a non-intrusive avenue for complaint: in the newspaper's own columns.
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