The Australian Press Council has considered a complaint by Linda Smith about the coverage in The West Australian of issues relating to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Ms Smith said the coverage focused unduly on people who argued the medication is being over-prescribed in Western Australia rather than also on the benefits, which the medication provides for many people. She said the coverage relied excessively on criticisms expressed by a particular MP who had no expert qualifications on the topic and gave very little attention to the views of experts and people who, like her, had personal experience of the benefits of the medication within their family.
The newspaper responded that it had given fair and balanced space to opposing views on the issue. It said coverage of the MP’s views was justified because he was a vigorous and long-term campaigner on the issue who had considerable impact on government policy. It also noted that concerns about over-prescription in WA had been expressed by expert government and academic sources. The newspaper provided examples of articles which quoted supporters of the medication and also some letters from supporters which were prominently presented.
After hearing of Ms Smith’s complaint, the newspaper offered to consider publishing a letter from Ms Smith setting out her point of view. She did not take up the offer because she thought the newspaper should seek contributions from people with expert qualifications.
The Press Council noted, after examining the range of coverage provided by Ms Smith and the newspaper, that the views of people expressing concern about over-medication may have been given somewhat greater prominence than those of supporters. It also noted that the coverage may have given somewhat greater prominence to people who did not have professional expertise in the area.
There are many circumstances, however, which may justify greater emphasis being given to particular perspectives in the coverage of an issue. In this instance, the Council concluded that any differences were within justifiable limits and accordingly the complaint relating to lack of balance is not upheld. The Council welcomed the newspaper’s offer to publish a letter from Ms Smith.
Note (not required for publication by the newspaper):
This adjudication applies the Council’s General Principle 1: "Publications should take reasonable steps to ensure reports are accurate, fair and balanced. They should not deliberately mislead or misinform readers either by omission or commission".