news The Australian Press Council has expressed concern about the Daily Telegraph’s coverage of the Federal Government’s National Broadband Network project, backing a local critic’s complaint that three articles in a short period of time had contained “inaccurate or misleading assertions” about the NBN.
In a statement, the Press Council noted that it had taken notice of a complaint made about three articles published by The Daily Telegraph on 9 June, 17 June and 6 July 2011 about aspects of the National Broadband Network (NBN).
The first article in The Daily Telegraph, headlined “Australian taxpayers’ latest NBN horror show”, was also published in other News Ltd newspapers under a different headline. The plaintiff, local Jamie Benaud, complained that this article overstated the ratio of NBN staff to customers by understating the number of customers who had taken up NBN offers. He also pointed out the inaccuracy of the article’s claim that customers and internet service providers (ISPs) were accessing NBN services without charge in Tasmania. The Council regarded the wrong assertion about the staff/customer ratio as misleading and unfair since the NBN was still at a very early start-up stage.
The Daily Telegraph claimed that the customer figures were based on up-to-date available data at the time of publication, and that free access applied in all the mainland States. The Council however, deemed that the newspaper should have tried harder to obtain the latest customer figures even though the mistake did not significantly affect the point being made. The Council admitted that the errors by themselves could have been considered minor ones, but that the forceful nature of the headline necessitated upholding the complaints about the article.
Benaud’s complaint targeted an unfair and inaccurate implication in another article headlined “Join the NBN or you’ll be digging deep”. The impression created was that customers not signing up for NBN at the beginning would have to pay an “estimated” $900 per day to have the cable laid to their home at a later date and then up to $140 a month to get an ISP connection. Benaud indicated NBN Co’s statement that later cable-laying would still be free of cost for “standard installation” and that ISP connection costs could be as reasonable as $30 a month.
The Daily Telegraph agreed that its statement regarding cable-laying costs might have been misread and had therefore published a clarification, but it upheld its mention of only the upper ISP price as fair and a common practice. The Council disagreed about the statement related to the cable-laying cost, calling it seriously inaccurate, while noting the newspaper’s attempts to clarify the matter.
However, the Council said the article implied that $900 would have to be paid to an ISP. With the actual ISP connection fee range being as wide as $30-140 and the minimum fees also being well known, the Council described as unfair and misleading the newspaper’s description of the fee as “up to $140”.
Benaud complained about the comparison in the article titled “Low interest in high speed internet” of a certain customer’s current internet costs of $39 per month with what it claimed would be between $53 and more than $130 a month on signing up for NBN services.
Benaud said that this should have taken into account that the customer’s phone service would cost much more than $39 totally for internet and phone, since the price range of $53 to $130, in reality, included a combination of internet and phone services, and not internet alone. The Daily Telegraph stated that the consumer himself did not have a problem with the portrayal or accuracy of his statements.
Since the newspaper omitted the costs of combined phone and internet services, the Council upheld the complaint, calling the comparison misleading. The Council also expressed its concern that the three articles had been published in a short space of time containing erroneous and misleading assertions. It stated that the sequence of mistakes should not have occurred and should have been addressed sufficiently and promptly when brought to the newspaper’s attention.
It’s not the first time that a major News Ltd newspaper in Australia has been criticised for its coverage of the NBN. In a war of words in October 2010, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy had asked Coalition senators not to believe what they read in newspapers such as The Australian and in other publications by News Ltd, after The Australian published a string of articles about the NBN which Conroy perceived to be unnecessarily negative.