Certain sections of the media have perpetuated many of the myths debunked on this site, and created some of their own along the way.
News Ltd broadsheet The Australian came in for heavy criticism in 2010 after their incorrect claims -on the eve of the Federal election- that homeowners would face massive bills to rewire their homes for the NBN.
Ridicule of the paper continued after they exclusively “revealed” that NBN Co’s head of Government Relations spent a large amount of his time liaising with members of parliament.
Technology commentators have attacked The Australian‘s inaccurate coverage of the hacking of an NBN service provider, while tech forum Whirlpool has numerous discussions about what users perceive as a “campaign” against the NBN by a small segment of the media.
Then there was the hilarious blunder of radio shock-jock Alan Jones, who unwittingly used a new optical fibre speed record as an argument against building the optical fibre NBN! Unsurprisingly, Alan hasn’t yet informed listeners of his rather embarrassing error.
Complaint to the Australian Press Council
In mid-2011, sick of reading a constant flow of demonstrably false NBN articles, I decided to make a formal complaint about the accuracy and balance of three articles published in News Ltd’s Sydney tabloid, The Daily Telegraph (with some cross-published on the websites of The Australian, the Herald-Sun, the Courier Mail and Adelaide Now). The three articles were:
- Australian taxpayers’ latest NBN horror show -view original
- Join the NBN or you’ll be digging deep -view original
- Low interest in high speed internet -view original
The full text of my initial complaint can be found here. I received no acknowledgement or response from The Daily Telegraph. I then forwarded my complaint to the Australian Press Council. The Telegraph then responded to my complaint, however I was unsatisfied with the response and provided an addendum. Again, the paper responded, however I felt they still did not adequately address my concerns. As such, I requested the complaint be adjudicated by the Council.
Following a hearing attended by myself and a representative of the newspaper in November 2011, the council upheld all of my complaints, compelling the newspaper to publish the adjudication and correct the articles. Publication date was supposed to be 22nd December, however this did not occur. The Press Council advised me that the paper had reported there was insufficient space to publish on that day, and advised that they would instead publish the adjudication on the 26th of December. Purely by coincidence I’m sure, this is one of the lowest newspaper circulation days of the year. The Press Council made the adjudication public on 22nd December, and it is reproduced below (emphasis mine):
Adjudication No. 1515
The Australian Press Council has considered a complaint about three articles in The Daily Telegraph on 9 June, 17 June and 6 July 2011 concerning aspects of the National Broadband Network (NBN). The articles appeared with the headline shown below, although the first article also appeared in other News Limited newspapers under a different headline.
“Australian taxpayers’ latest NBN horror show”
Jamie Benaud complained this article understated the number of customers who had taken up NBN offers and accordingly overstated the ratio of NBN staff to customers. He also said the claim that during the trial period customers and internet service providers (ISPs) were accessing NBN services without charge was not true in Tasmania. The newspaper said the customer figures were based on the latest available to it at the time of publication and that free access applied in all mainland States.
The Council considered the newspaper should have made greater efforts to get up-to-date customer figures, although the error did not substantially affect the point being made. It considered the assertion about the staff/customer ratio was misleading and unfair as the company was at a very early start-up stage. These errors may well have been considered minor in themselves but the Council noted the forceful nature of the headline and concluded that the complaints about this article should be upheld.
“Join the NBN or you’ll be digging deep”
Mr Benaud complained this article implied inaccurately and unfairly that customers who do not sign up for NBN at the outset would have to pay an “estimated” $900 a day to get the cable laid to their house at a later date and then up to $140 per month to get an ISP connection. He pointed out that NBN said the later cable-laying would still be free “for standard installation” and that ISP connection costs might be as low as $30 per month. The newspaper agreed its statement about cable-laying costs may have been misread (publishing a clarification as a result) but defended mention of only the upper ISP price as being fair and a common practice.
The Council considered the statement about the cable-laying cost was clearly and seriously inaccurate. It noted the newspaper had attempted later to clarify the matter even though it believed residents had been given the reported information. However, in so doing, it implied incorrectly that the $900 would have to be paid to an ISP. The Council also considered that describing the ISP connection fee as “up to $140” was unfair and misleading when the range was as wide as $30-$140, and the minimum fees had also been well known. Accordingly, the complaints against this article are upheld.
“Low interest in high speed internet”
Mr Benaud complained about this article comparing a particular consumer’s current internet costs of $39 per month with what it said would be $53 to more than $130 per month if he signed up for NBN services. The latter range was actually for a combination of internet and phone services, not internet alone, and, as the consumer has a phone service, he would currently be paying much more than $39 in total for internet and phone. The newspaper said that the customer himself had no issue with the accuracy or portrayal of his words.
The Council considered that, by omission of the costs for combined phone and internet services, the comparison was misleading. Accordingly, the complaint against this article was upheld.
Interestingly, the council went further than merely upholding the complaints, and added the following statement to the adjudication:
“The Council expressed concern that within a short period of time three articles on the same theme contained inaccurate or misleading assertions. It considers that this sequence of errors should not have occurred and that they should have been corrected promptly and adequately when brought to the newspaper’s attention.”
The above was the first time I have ever dealt with the Australian Press Council, and I was very happy with the result. I can only hope that the Telegraph will be more careful on their NBN reporting now that they know people are not prepared to accept misleading reporting on the subject.
I encourage anyone who is sick of shoddy and misleading journalism to hold the media to account. The Australian Press Council’s website contains information on the guidelines newspapers should follow, and how to make a complaint if you think these guidelines have been breached.