Unfair On Welfare: Daily Telegraph Pinged By Press Council

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News Corp paper The Daily Telegraph has had a complaint against it upheld by the Australian Press Council after publishing a story that made ‘inaccurate’ and ‘unfair’ claims about a welfare rights group.

The Sydney tabloid was today forced to publish the results of a Press Council investigation after the National Welfare Rights Network (NWRN) filed a complaint about a 2014 story titled “Rorters sharing tips to get on disability pension: Bludge School, how to fudge a bludge”, badged by the paper as an “exclusive” and written by journalist Daniel Meers.

An online version of the story, still accessible today, claims “an army of bludgers” were using online forums to share tips on conning doctors into putting them on the Disability Support Pension, and providing “form letters” to help convince health professionals to sign off.

The story referred to the NWRN as one of the groups running the forums.

But the NWRN told the Press Council it did not run the forums referred to in the article, and that a form letter was “not designed to con” but is a neutrally worded document, intended to assist claimants and their doctors in providing all relevant information needed by Centrelink to assess a claim”.

In its response, the Telegraph said it quoted material from a letter sent by the NWRN in a follow-up article, which it later offered to publish in full.

The Council found this meant the paper was not in breach of its standards, despite upholding the complaint and concluding the paper had “inaccurately and unfairly implied the NWRN ran a forum, that the quotes in the article came from its website, and that the form letter it produced was part of an attempt to “con” doctors, an allegation that was reinforced by the use of the word “slip””.

In a press release issue today, the NWRN welcomed the printing of the findings, but said the vilification of people receiving income support was reaching new lows.

“It is now time for responsible media outlets, Government, the parliament and community groups to take steps to steer the public debate to a more factual, balanced and respectful discussion,” it said.

“Claiming and being assessed for the [Disability Support Pension] is a very difficult, technical, complex and lengthy process, which requires a person to produce medical evidence and can take six months or longer. Many people with significant disabilities cannot qualify for the pension due to the high bar set by the impairment tables and other qualification requirements.”

That’s not a message the Telegraph appears likely to take to heart.

The day before the paper published the Press Council’s finding, its front page ran another welfare “exclusive” titled “Rort Out”, with an accompanying editorial praising Social Services Minister Scott Morrison for “stopping the bludgers” by increasing the number of people being blocked from accessing the Disability Support Pension.

The Press Council is an independent organisation that helps regulate the Australian media and is funded by news organisations. New Matilda is a member of the Australian Press Council.

Max Chalmers

Max Chalmers is a former New Matilda journalist and editorial staff member. His main areas of interest are asylum seekers, higher education and politics.

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