The Press Council considered a complaint from Yamaha Motor Finance about an article in Banking Day headed “The companies that don’t respond to complaints” published online on 12 November 2019.
The article reported on a number of complaints received by the Australian Financial Complaints Authority from customers of businesses such as Yamaha Motor Finance. The article reported that AFCA had “calculated a non-response rate for companies under its jurisdiction” which is “the percentage of complaints that are progressed to the case management stage of the complaint resolution process without a response from the financial services company at the initial stage”. The article reported Yamaha Motor Finance had 14 complaints “with a 100 per cent non-response rate”.
The complainant said the article is grossly misleading because the data published by AFCA shows there were 14 complaints against it in total and that 12 out of 14 complaints were addressed by it and resolved at the registration and referral stage. In relation to the two complaints not so resolved, the complainant said one was addressed by Yamaha Motor Finance and closed later at the case management stage and the other complaint was discontinued by the person making the complaint. The complainant said that the article misleadingly suggests that Yamaha Motor Finance does not respond to 100% of its customer complaints and this had caused damage to its brand. The complainant also said that after it became aware of the article, it asked the publication to correct the article. While the publication had invited it to submit a letter to the editor for publication, the complainant considered that the publication of a letter without correction of the article would not adequately address its concerns with the accuracy of the article.
In response, the publication said that the article had been prepared by an experienced journalist on the basis of material on AFCA’s website and there was a public interest in reporting on the complaint figures. It said that after the article appeared, the publication was contacted by the complainant challenging the veracity of the article. The publication said that as a specialist subscription publication, it had a long standing policy of inviting submission of a letter to the editor where concerns were raised about an article and that in accordance with this policy it had invited Yamaha Motor Finance to do so. It said this would have been a reasonable and appropriate way of addressing Yamaha Motor Finance’s concerns given the AFCA processes and matters of interpretation reported in the article.
The Council’s Standards of Practice applicable in this matter require publications to take reasonable steps to ensure factual material is accurate and not misleading (General Principle 1) and presented with reasonable fairness and balance (General Principle 3). If the material is significantly inaccurate or misleading, or unfair or unbalanced, publications must take reasonable steps to provide adequate remedial action or an opportunity for a response to be published if that is reasonably necessary to address a possible breach of General Principle 3 (General Principles 2 and 4).
The Council accepts that 12 of the 14 complaints were addressed and resolved by Yamaha Motor Finance at the registration and referral stage of ACFA’s complaints process. The Council accordingly considers that the statement that Yamaha Motor Finance had a “100 per cent non-response rate” was inaccurate. This inaccuracy was compounded by the headline. Accordingly, the Council concludes that the publication failed to take reasonable steps to ensure factual material was accurate and not misleading, and is presented with reasonable fairness in balance, in breach of General Principles 1 and 3.
As to corrective or remedial action, the Council considers that the inaccuracy was significant. While the Council welcomes the publication’s offer of a letter to the editor, the Council considers that given the nature of the inaccuracy, the publication of a correction was required and a letter to the editor was not sufficient. Accordingly, the publication also breached General Principles 2 and 4.
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.
2. Provide a correction or adequate remedial action if published material is significantly inaccurate or misleading.
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.
4. Ensure that where material refers adversely to a person, a fair opportunity is given for subsequent publication of a reply if that is reasonably necessary to address a possible breach of General Principle 3.