If you work in communications there will be times when you need to deal with false statements and lies that have been published or broadcast in the media.
As a former newspaper editor I’m aware that mistakes occur. What galls me is lazy journalism and the deliberate spreading of misinformation.
Sadly there are more instances of this than ever because of declining editorial standards and pressure to publish quickly online.
Here are two examples that I can recall from ABC Wide Bay:
An injured kangaroo was seen on a busy town street. The reporter contacted Bundaberg Regional Council to ask what we’re doing about it. We provided this response:
When Council officers arrived on scene the injured kangaroo was deceased. While injured wildlife is not Council’s responsibility and should be reported to RSPCA on 1300 ANIMAL (1300 264 625) or Wildcare Australia on (07) 5527 2444, due to lack of available officers locally from response agencies, Council is often forced to step in to assist and respond when required.
The report ran without that information being included, implying that Council was negligent. The station subsequently apologised to us (not the audience) and said the email had been missed. Okay, maybe.
In another instance, a man was bitten by a shark and said Council should be doing more to control them. We pointed out that Council has no jurisdiction with sharks, that it’s a State Government matter. ABC Wide Bay ran the man’s comments without correction on radio and online. No explanation for that one.
If the journalist knew the truth or failed to verify a fact, that constitutes media lies in my opinion.
Most seriously, Seven News Wide Bay followed a national story several months ago about PFAS in urban water supplies.
The journalist, Hope Wilson, twisted a flawed ABC report to state that PFAS is present in Bundaberg water, which is untrue.
We had earlier provided Ms Wilson with this statement:
The Dr Mays Road bore was decommissioned after low levels of PFAS were detected. Council continues to monitor the water supply for PFAS and there has been none detected.
After she broadcast the report and placed it on Facebook, I immediately sent a message to Seven News Wide Bay and asked for it to be withdrawn with an apology.
It’s gravely irresponsible in my view to misinform people about public health issues.
Seven withdrew the Facebook post but resisted apologising, offering the right of reply instead. We declined this and again requested an apology, which was half baked and insincere.
Yesterday, the News Mail published a letter from Bill Loudon accusing the Mayor and Councillors of hypocrisy in issuing a fireworks permit while seeking to reduce light impacts on nesting turtles.
It would be an interesting discussion point if it were true. Unfortunately, the News Mail didn’t bother to check or wilfully ignored the fact that Council has nothing to do with issuing permits for fireworks.
Again, we asked for an apology but this wasn’t forthcoming and instead we were promised the right of reply.
It’s hard to respect journalists and media outlets that publish and broadcast misinformation without checking facts and then fail to apologise.
In terms of dealing with it, my advice is to remain cool, state the facts and ask for a correction. Use your own channels to correct the record if necessary. If media choose to disregard the truth or simply offer the right of reply, there’s not much you can do if defamation isn’t involved.
There’s some comfort knowing they are increasingly irrelevant when you see how much they rely on Twitter and Facebook as sources.
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