The Conversation unpublished and retracted an article about a Chinese company and an apparent connection to an Australian political party. The implication was that the company, Shanghai Zhongfu Group, donated the money to the party and then received a lucrative government contract.
Although The Conversation in an Australian news site that lists “academic rigor, journalistic flair” as its tagline, it got the story wrong. The company didn’t donate to the political party. Rather, it purchased an office building.
Managing editor Misha Ketchell explained to iMediaEthics by e-mail how the error occurred. “The Australian Electoral Commission has a website that lists monies received by political parties,” Ketchell wrote. “But it appears the site doesn’t distinguish donations and other large receipts. The academic author of this article mistakenly thought the money had been listed because it was a donation when in fact it was the proceeds of a property deal.”
A lawyer for the Shanghai Zhongfu Group flagged the error to The Conversation, Ketchell said. “The lawyer did not request a retraction but we thought it was the appropriate action given the significance of the error,” Ketchell told iMediaEthics.
The Conversation is an Australian news site providing “an independent source of news and views, sourced from the academic and research community,” according to its website.
The Sept. 11 retraction by managing editor Ketchell reads:
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“On Friday we removed an article called ‘A Chinese company gave $3.6 million to Labor while bidding for government work – and it’s totally legal’ after becoming aware of a significant factual error that undermined some of the article’s key arguments.
The article claimed Chinese company Shanghai Zhongfu Group gave more than A$3.6 million to the Australian Labor Party in the same year it won the right to develop a controversial food bowl project. The money was not a donation, rather it was paid to the Victorian ALP to purchase an office building in King St, Melbourne.
We are committed to providing accurate and reliable information, and to acknowledging errors in an open and transparent way when they occur.
“We apologise for the mistake.”
The Conversation also referenced the retraction in its morning newsletter to subscribers.