On the 12 March, 2013, I wrote this: " We have a Federal election in Australia on Sept 14, 2013 and on the 12 March, 2013 the government finally responded to the Convergence Review
and Finkelstein Inquiry
into the media in Australia. Of interest to this site is the Labor government's proposal, subject to successful legislation, to establish a new watchdog to ensure that media companies comply with independent journalism standards. The Public Interest Media Advocate (PIMA) would be responsible for overseeing self-regulatory bodies, such as the Australian Press Council, to make sure that complaints and criticisms of the print and online media are dealt with properly and in a timely fashion. However, the public will not be able to access the advocate for individual cases as the Press Council will still be responsible for complaint handling.
I will update this page, if the legislation proceeds and when, the complaints process changes."
On the 21 March, the Government withdrew the bill that would have set up the PIMA. So nothing has changed -the status quo remains.
Before going any further I would warn potential complainants that you will require two personal characteristics as you embark on your journey. First is patience and the second is tenacity. All too often complaints do not see the light of day because the complaints process is time consuming, not well publicised and legally pedantic.
What I can tell you is that of the 18 April, 2013, a person with a complaint against a journalist in the print media can:
a) contact the journalist’s employer and ask if they have a complaint's process. If there isn't a set process, then you can ask how you should complain. It may be a simple as writing a letter to the editor. If it does have a formal process you should follow it because if your issue is not resolved, other bodies e.g The Australian Press Council, will want to know what steps you have taken before approaching them. However, if for example, your letter is not published, nothing will happen unless the journalist’s behaviour has breached that particular employers' code of ethics, standards of behaviour or practice. Readers can access the various Australian Media Codes of Practice/Conduct/Ethics, on the ABC's Media Watch website's "Resources" Page.
For example the NEWS LIMITED PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT POLICY says the following with regard to complaints:
22.1 Group publications must regularly publish advice to readers on how to lodge a complaint about the conduct of an editorial employee or the content of a story.
22.2 A "help line" should be established and publicised to enable readers to lodge complaints to the publication. Such complaints should be reported to relevant managers and supervisors as soon as possible. Responses to complaints by an authorised officer of the company should be timely, subject to any legal considerations.
22.3 Complaints involving alleged breaches of this policy will be investigated by the managing editor of the newspaper concerned, or by an executive of equivalent status.
Proven breaches will be dealt with in accordance with the company's disciplinary procedures.
On the 4/4/12, Seven West Media, publisher of The West Australian daily newspaper and Pacific Magazines, withdrew from the Australian Press Council ( see below) announcing it would set up its own self-regulation body-the Independent Media Council.
Under editorial complaints on its web page it says "The West Australian and thewest.com.au is bound by the Independent Media Council
The Independent Media Council is chaired by former Supreme Court of Western Australia justice Christopher Steytler QC. The other members are former WA Liberal attorney general Cheryl Edwardes and former WA Labor attorney general Jim McGinty. It had its first meeting on the 2 August 2012 and published their decision only 5 days later! If only the APC could be as efficient!
The West Australian Newspaper, its online version and regional newspapers belonging to the Seven West Media Group also have a "readers' editor"- Jenni Garrigan. Her direct number is 08-9482 3206. Email address: <firstname.lastname@example.org
> or write to the Readers’ Editor, GPO Box N1027, Perth WA 6843. Seven West Media's main telephone number is 08-9482 3111. If you are not satisfied with the response from the readers' editor, your complaint will be referred to the new Independent Media Council.
For now, if you have a complaint against a non-Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) member print journalist , follow the recommended APC process as described below, unless of course your complaint concerns a non-MEAA member who works for a publication owned by Seven West Media. If so, contact their newly appointed "readers’ editor " who will directly receive all complaints and seek to resolve them. Alternatively, you can write to the Australian Press Council. See below.
Other members of this IMC are the newspapers:
The West Australian | The Weekend West Countryman, Bunbury Herald, South Western Times, Busselton Dunsborough Times, Augusta Margaret River Times, Manjimup-Bridgetown Times, Great Southern Herald, Albany Advertiser, The Extra, Harvey-Waroona Reporter, Narrogin Observer, Great Southern Herald, Kalgoorlie Miner, Goldfields Express, Sound Telegraph, Southern Telegraph, Geraldton Guardian, Midwest Times, Northern Guardian, Pilbara News, North West Telegraph, Broome Advertiser and The Kimberley Echo.
As stated before, if you believe the code has been breached and wish to complain about an article in any of the above you can contact the Readers' Editor by email: email@example.com
or in writing to the Readers' Editor, GPO Box N1027, Perth, WA 6843. Alternatively, you can contact the IMC directly but it may be sent back to the Reader's Editor.
The Sydney Morning Herald did have a "readers 'editor." Her name was Judy Prisk and her role was described as an in-house advocate for readers. Her appointment was the first for any Australian newspaper and her column used to appear in the Herald each Wednesday. However, she wrote her last column on 5 August 2012 and finished on the 28th September, 2012. Currently any email to the Reader's Editor receives this reply: "Any emails to the firstname.lastname@example.org
mailbox should be redirected to <email@example.com
> or <firstname.lastname@example.org
> " All complaints about stories published in the printed Herald or at smh.com.au should be directed to <Readerlink@smh.com.au
In the Fairfax Media Ltd 2012 Annual Report on page 7 the following can be found.
"In 2011 Fairfax created its first Readers’ Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Sun Herald. The role of the Readers’ Editor is to champion readers’ interests and editorial accountability and engage with a critical stakeholder group - our audiences. In the past year, the Readers’ Editor published more than 30 columns, each originating from readers’ ideas, complaints or concerns. The Readers’ Editor has also responded to hundreds of emails, phone calls, tweets and letters, totalling over 10,000 separate communications. This is a key indicator on audience engagement and importantly, the feedback helps us to meet audience expectations on editorial content, standards and ethics".
It goes onto saying:
The Sydney Morning Herald Readers’ Editor role will be merged with a range of other community focused responsibilities and will be re-named the Community Editor. This recognises the very important nexus between community issues, audience engagement and our editorial agenda."
There will no longer be a regular column critiquing the paper's coverage but a more general engagement with the paper's audience. Thus less accountability. See "The era of the readers' editor ... over before it started" by Matthew Knott Crikey media journalist in the Nov 2, 2012 issue for further information. <http://www.crikey.com.au/2012/11/02/the-era-of-the-readers-editor-over-b...
The complaints process only applies to MEAA union members and not all journalists are members of the union. So you may have a situation where:
a) the journalist isn't a MEAA member or
b) two or more journalists independently and separately contribute to a story but one journalist is a member and the other not a member.
If the journalist isn’t a member but he/she is involved with the print media, you will be advised to take your complaint to the Australian Press Council ( APC) which involves answering more questions and waiting more time for the process to commence.
In the latter case you can still make a complaint against the journalist member. However, it may also be the situation where the journalist member was not responsible for that part of the story/article you are complaining about. (At times, stories, can be "written" by two or more journalists and compiled for publication by someone else.) In that case the complaint can't proceed and you are best approaching the Australian Press Council, as that is the only avenue left open to you.
It is worth noting, that on the 16th November 2011 and under questioning at the Independent Media Inquiry, the federal secretary of the MEAA, Chris Warren, confirmed that no journalists had been fined for an ethical breach of the union's code over the past decade, only one person had been expelled close to 40 years ago and that he thought three journalists had been censured or rebuked for an ethical breach in the past decade.
Some facts about the MEAA's current complaints process:
*it doesn't deal with those who have the power to enforce a change in journalistic behaviour or whom may be ultimately responsible for the unethical behaviour of a journalist e.g media proprietors, editors, publishers and senior editorial executives.
* the complaint must be in writing and state the name of the journalist, the action you believe was unethical and the point or points of the code of ethics that you believe have been breached.
* the person who is complaining must establish that the journalist is a MEAA union member by directly contacting the journalist's union by phone or email or putting in a written complaint. A telphone contact may be a threatening option for some so an email to the union is recommended. A written complaint involves some time and effort.
* there are two panels involved-the first is called the Complaints panel or Judiciary Committee and is made up of 3 people. One of whom must be a non-union member. If either the journalist or yourself is not satisfied with the outcome, an appeal can be held. The Appeal panel is made up of 5 people, two of whom are non-union members.
* the decision to uphold or reject your complaint is made by a majority vote. Hence in both panels, journalists will usually have the majority vote.
* the penalties that may apply to the journalist will vary. It can be a warning, a reprimand, a fine up to $1000 dollars, suspension of membership of the Australian Journalists Association for up to a year or expulsion from the AJA. However, in the light of the MEAA's federal secretary's response ( see above,) one could seriously question the fairness, effectiveness and relevance of the complaints process.
* it is not transparent. The adjudications and findings are not available to the public. For example, there are no publicly available statistics to show how many complaints are made, how many appeals there are, what the reasons were for the complaints, which media sectors are complained against, who deals with the complaints and what penalties are applied if a journalist is found to have breached the Code of Ethics.
* you may have to appear before the panel.
* you may be asked to provide further information down the track to support your complaint.
* you cannot have legal representation.
* you may bring along a witness to confirm what happened to you but the witness can be cross examined by the journalist concerned.
The MEAA stated in its submission to the 2011 Media Inquiry that "... a unified Media Council would be better placed to hear complaints against journalists and news organisations, in the circumstances where the Journalist Code of Ethics is the central set of principle against which to assess journalists’ conduct."
In a recent adjudication ( June 2012) the APC stated "...in the interests of transparency, it should be noted that the MEAA has asked the Press Council to consider taking over responsibility for adjudicating complaints under the union’s Code of Ethics. See below for more information on the Australian Press Council and read an article in Crikey about this issue.
In the 2012 Australian Press Freedom Report, the MEAA stated in its closing remarks on page 87, "When it comes to regulation of the news media, we remain committed to the principle of self-regulation, through a reformed Press Council encompassing all media organisations, whether print, broadcast or online, working to uphold strict ethical standards such as those enshrined in the Journalists’ Code of Ethics – it is what makes our journalism ethical, credible and independent. We surrender that at our peril."
Currently, the APC deals with inaccuracies and unfairness in the print ( newspapers, magazines, periodicals ) and some online media. It also covers the websites of its newspaper and magazine members, as well as AAP. It has often been referred to as a "toothless tiger"( or worse) as it has no powers, a tiny staff, pathetic funding and takes ages to resolve a complaint. However, there have been some positive changes.There was a doubling of the full-time staff to four in early May 2012 and then to 7 F/T employees by August, 2012; a hundred percent increase in funding, rising from $0.8 million to $1.6 million in 2012-13 and another $1.8 million in 2013-14, and a continuing increase in the number of its online members, including the news publication, <Crikey.com.au> and the media,marketing and entertainment news site, <Mumbrella.com.au> The RACQ 's whose magazine is called "The Road Ahead" is not a member.
The APC does not hear complaints about the conduct of individual journalists. Any such complaint is treated as a complaint against the publication the journalist worked for. The Press Council will consider the journalist’s behaviour in the overall context of the complaint but the focus is on the publication and what it should do to make amends if the complaint or complaints are upheld. Where a journalist has been singled out for criticism, the Council leaves it to the publication for any disciplinary action. Should the complaint go to adjudication it is considered essential that you attend the meeting with the Complaints Sub-committee or or join in a teleconference with the Sub-committee. Exceptions to this rule can only be made with the prior approval of the APC's Executive Secretary.
If the adjudication is published your name will be revealed.
Note: The APC has decided that , in general, it will not accept complaints about the print media's coverage of the Convergence Review and that of The Finkelstein Inquiry because of a "conflict of interest." Any issue would have to be a matter of "...indisputable fact."
On 30 April 2012, the government released the Convergence Review Final Report. The Government's response to be released in "due course." As of the end of 2012, the Government has not yet responded to either of the two reports though cabinet has considered the recommendations of the two media inquiries i.e. The Convergence Review and The Finkelstein Inquiry.
d) contact the ABC’s Media Watch programme.
Media Watch has a Story Editor whose role it is to look at complaints and decide whether the issues raised are of interest to the program. Some are followed up, some are not. It would be a reasonable assumption to make, that if you don't have any audio or vision of your interaction with the journalist, then Media Watch, being a TV programme, will not be interested in your complaint. But you can try. http://www.abc.net.au/mediawatch
With regards to the broadcast mediums of RADIO and TV, The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is the government agency responsible for the regulation of broadcasting. When investigating a complaint it only has the power to find against the station licensee, not the person whose words prompted the complaint. So, for example, if a radio announcer /journalist verbally abuses you on air, you should first complain in writing to the radio station.
If you want to complain about a TV program because you are concerned about its accuracy, fairness or respect for privacy in news and current affairs; the amount of non-program matter on television; and placement of commercials and program promotions; then you should make your complaint by letter or fax - not email or phone- to the commercial TV station concerned or by the electronic lodgement form on the Free TV Australia website below. The latter choice is advised because there is a structured process and all the information you need to include in the complaint is included.
Once your complaint is submitted, Free TV will give your complaint to the station you have selected and the station will respond to you directly.
If you don't get a response within 60 days, or you aren't satisfied with their response, you can then make a complaint to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). <http://www.acma.gov.au/WEB/HOMEPAGE/pc=HOME>
To avoid unnecessary delays in the processing of your complaint, keep a record of what you send in by fax or letter, the dates you send in material and the names and contact details of any people you talked to prior to making the complaint.
Don't hold your breath waiting for an outcome. If ACMA decides you have grounds for a complaint the 'to and fro' correspondence between ACMA, the TV station concerned and yourself, could take months for even a simple complaint to be investigated. You will need to be both tenacious and patient. For example. I sent in an official ACMA broadcasting complaint on 4 Jan, 2013 and received the results of the investigation of my complaint on the 15 May, 2013. That was just over 4 months. If you take into account the time from the broadcast ( 24 October, 2012) to the date I recieved a reply, the whole process took approx 6-7 months from start to finish. Incidentally, no breach of the Television's Code of Pratice was found to have occurred but I have noticed that the station has altered its approach in the area of concern so no further complaints should be necessary.
ACMA usually publishes final investigation reports on its website. A media release may also be issued. While your name and personal information will not be published some details of your complaint may receive publicity regardless of whether a breach of the code concerned.