Adjournment Speech – Press Gallery
Senator the Hon John Faulkner
23 November 2010
Senator FAULKNER (New South Wales) (8:24 PM) - Tonight I want to raise concerns I have about unethical and inaccurate journalism in press gallery coverage of federal politics. I am, and always have been, an advocate of an independent and diverse press in all its forms. I accept that the media holds parliamentarians accountable for their actions; I accept that the media demands high standards from us. But I also expect journalists to observe their industry’s own code of ethics established by the Australian Journalists Association many years ago and still enshrined in the principles of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance-Australian Journalists Association code of ethics. Most major news outlets in this country also have their own codes. To my knowledge, none of those codes undermines or diminishes the principles that are contained in the MEAA-AJA code of ethics. I want to quote two key clauses in that code.
Clause 1 states:
Report and interpret honestly, striving for accuracy, fairness and disclosure of all essential facts. Do not suppress relevant available facts, or give distorting emphasis. Do your utmost to give a fair opportunity for reply.
Clause 3 states:
Aim to attribute information to its source. Where a source seeks anonymity, do not agree without first considering the source’s motives and any alternative attributable source. Where confidences are accepted, respect them in all circumstances.
The Melbourne Age code of conduct incorporates the MEAA-AJA code of ethics in its entirety. The Sydney Morning Herald code of ethics also incorporates the MEAA-AJA code of ethics and includes 23 statements of principle. Tonight I just want to highlight two of those 23 statements.
Herald staff will report and interpret honestly, striving for accuracy, fairness and disclosure of all essential facts. They will not suppress or distort relevant facts. They will do their utmost to offer the right of reply, and they will separate comment from news.
Staff will seek to attribute information to its source. They will always declare the use of pseudonyms in their work. They will seek to avoid being compromised by a source and to use multiple sources wherever possible. Where a source seeks anonymity, the journalist shall first consider the source’s motives and seek alternative attributable sources. Quotes not attributed to a named source will be used only with a section editor’s approval. Where confidences are accepted the journalist will respect and protect them in all appropriate circumstances.
I have drawn attention to these statements of supposed principle because of two newspaper articles which question my role in the recent federal election campaign. In an article headlined ‘Time for a bit of selective recall’, which was published in the Age newspaper on 2 October 2010, Tony Wright informs readers of how he remembers spending his school holidays ‘lying on hot sand, leaping in and out of the surf, reading Phantom and Superman comics and playing Monopoly and snakes and ladders’.
It is Mr Wright’s business, and that of the editor of his newspaper, if he chooses to titillate the readers of the Age with schoolboy fantasy and the fiction of schoolboy comics 40 years ago. Unfortunately, he did not stop there. He went on to talk a lot of nonsense about my involvement in the Labor election campaign. In pursuing his fantasies, he ignored his responsibility to check the accuracy of the rubbish he purported to be his impressions of my role. On 7 November 2010, Paul Daley wrote in an article in the Sydney Morning Herald entitled ‘Labor searches for the meaning of strife’ that I was:
… regarded with widespread respect and deep affection as a Labor elder statesman …
Unfortunately, he did not stop there but, like Mr Wright, went on to wildly speculate about my role in the election campaign - yet at no time did he contact me or my office about the twaddle that he was writing. I do not doubt that Tony Wright and Paul Daley claim to be responsible and professional journalists. I just fear they have been conned by the same poisoned source, who I will not name to protect the guilty. I will be interested to see if the journalists concerned insist that their newspapers publish my response to the Senate this evening.