The Press Council considered whether its Standards of Practice were breached by the publication of a blog by The Daily Telegraph 10 April 2016 online. The blog was headed “TAX-FUNDED SPOUSAL ASSAULT COMMUNITY” and suggested that a claim by the ABC staff union for “Family Violence Leave” was because “the ABC employs so many victims of domestic violence that they require their own special leave allowance category”. The blog added: “What kind of carnage-strewn bloodhouse are they operating over there? Is that why ABC staff work so few hours – because they’re always recovering from the previous night’s beatings?” The blog also commented: “Home is the last place they need to be. That’s where the violence happens.”
The Council received complaints from a number of people expressing concern that it was offensive and unfair to use the subject of domestic violence in an attempt to criticise or make light of ABC employee claims for family violence leave.
The Council asked the publication to comment on whether the material breached the applicable Standards of Practice requiring publications to take reasonable steps to ensure factual material is presented with reasonable fairness and balance (General Principles 1 and 3), and avoid contributing to substantial offence or distress, unless doing so is sufficiently in the public interest (General Principle 6).
The publication said it was an opinion article in a blog well-known and recognised for its satirical and frequently mocking commentary on political and social issues which favoured a “very specific Centre of Right readership”. The blog entry was clearly satire with the writer engaging in his own style to make a point about the changing nature of workplace ambit claims, and a reasonable reader would have regarded it as such. However, the publication recognised there would have been readers beyond the target audience who may have taken a different view. The publication said the intention of the blog was not to diminish the seriousness of domestic violence, an issue frequently examined by the blog’s author.
The Council considers that a reasonable reader would have recognised the blog was satirical and was using exaggeration to make its point.
The Council considers that the blog offered a reasonable summary of the ambit claim by ABC employees. The Council concludes that in the overall context of the blog, its style and its readership, the publication took reasonable steps to ensure factual material in the blog relating to the claim was accurate, fair and balanced and that the opinions expressed in it were not based on significantly inaccurate material or the omission of key facts. Accordingly, the Council concludes that General Principles 1 and 3 were not breached.
As to General Principle 6, although the publication may not have intended to diminish the seriousness of domestic violence, there was a significant risk some readers might draw this conclusion. On balance however, the Council concludes that the level of offence must be considered in the overall context of the blog, its style and its readership. In the circumstances, the Council concludes that the publication took reasonable steps to avoid substantial offence, distress or prejudice and the Council’s Standards were not breached in this respect.
Relevant Council Standards
This adjudication applies the following General Principles of the Council.
Publications must take reasonable steps to:
1. Ensure that factual material in news reports and elsewhere is accurate and not misleading, and is distinguishable from other material such as opinion
3. Ensure that factual material is presented with reasonable fairness and balance, and that writers’ expressions of opinion are not based on significantly inaccurate factual material or omission of key facts.
6. Avoid causing or contributing materially to substantial offence, distress or prejudice, or a substantial risk to health or safety, unless doing so is sufficiently in the public interest.