Australia’s highest-circulating daily paper, the Herald Sun, has been brought to heel for lazy and biased journalism after SSAA Victoria took a stand against the paper’s attack on reputable firearms organisations in a story last year.
The Australian Press Council found the Herald Sun had published misleading material without reasonable fairness or balance and had not taken steps to provide adequate remedial action, contravening three of the General Principles in its Standards of Practice.
The action relates to a story published by the Herald Sun in June last year, which painted the firearms organisations and the firearms industry as social media “trolls” and sinister recruiters of “disaffected young men” in print and online.
“The story was an outright attack on all firearms users and the organisations and industry that support them,” said SSAA Victoria CEO Jack Wegman.
“Sadly, this level of bias against gun owners is all too regular, but we have now shown that we don’t have to stand for it and that the Australian Press Council and other media regulators are there to protect us from this level of bias.”
In what was a prime example of lazy and biased journalism, the story was built on parts of a broader interview for a profile piece on Alannah and Madeline Foundation CEO and anti-gun advocate Lesley Podesta.
In that interview Podesta complained that the AMF had been targeted by “gun-lobby bullies” and that her staff had to receive counselling after “aggressive trolling from the firearms lobby” resulting from its opposition to the importation of the Adler 110 shotgun.
This was turned into a news story written by experienced writer Wendy Touhy who on several occasions used the phrase “the gun lobby” to describe people who had abused AMF staff.
This phrase clearly implied any organisation which advocates on firearms issues.
SSAA Victoria, as the State’s biggest firearm-owner organisation which advocates on firearms issues, took exception to the fact that it had been implicated in this story, that no balancing comments were sought nor was there any attempt to investigate the veracity of Podesta’s statements.
Instead the Herald Sun took Podesta’s word for it and gave her a platform to malign our organisation and other reputable shooting bodies, as well as the industry.
SSAA Victoria immediately filed an official complaint with the Australian Press Council, which held an Adjudication Panel hearing in February this year. It was chaired by the Council’s Vice-Chair the Hon John Doyle AC and was attended by other members of the council and APC executive. News Corp Australia business manager Tom Salom represented the Herald Sun.
We argued in the hearing that the sweeping statements about “the gun lobby” in the article could easily be construed as SSAA Victoria or any other reputable organisation representing the interests of firearms users.
We said that the comments of a few individuals should not be presented as the views of the broader firearms community nor the reputable organisations which represent them.
The APC Adjudication Panel agreed and after some weeks of deliberation, handed down its final ruling that the Herald Sun had breached General Principle 1. “As the misleading aspects of the article were not addressed by a correction or other adequate remedial action, the publication breached General Principle 2.
“The council also considered that the failure to seek a response or comment from any organisation or body in the gun lobby, firearms lobby or the gun industry amounted to a failure to take reasonable steps to ensure the article was presented with reasonable fairness and balance. Accordingly, the publication breached General Principle 3.”
“This is a great result,” Mr Wegman said.
“Nearly every week we see in the media biased, hysterical and irrational attacks on firearms, firearms users and the industry that supports them.
“It has gotten to the point where common sense no longer informs conversation around firearms, as demonstrated by the situation in Tasmania where very reasonable and sensible adjustments to firearms regulations have been attacked by hysterical and irrational anti-gun groups.
“What’s more, these people rely on media bias such as that displayed by the Herald Sun to scare people into donating money to them.
“Hopefully this ruling will send a clear message that we are watching and will continue to jump on these types of attacks on the shooting sports.”