More than 70,000 Australians are falsely claiming to be sick so they don’t have to work and can get welfare?
That’s what the Australian Daily Telegraph reported last year with the splashy front-page headline “Bludgers’ Disgrace: Booze Drugs Dole Rort.” Translating that from Australian slang, the headline amounts to “Moochers’ Disgrace: Booze Government Benefits Welfare Fraud”. Online, the headline read, “Dole bludgers used medical loophole to avoid getting work.”
Australian National University explains that “dole bludger” means “one who exploits the system of unemployment benefits by avoiding gainful employment and making do on the dole.”
But, it’s wrong to say that all 70,000 recipients in question were “dole bludgers” or “exploiting a loophole,” the Australian press council ruled because the 70,000 welfare recipients in question included people with “legitimate inability to work due to illness.” Further, it was also inaccurate for the Telegraph to claim that “crooked doctors” were helping recipients scam for more welfare by giving them medical paperwork to get out of having to work.
The Telegraph‘s report claimed the Department of Human Services found that “more than 70,000 people – almost 8 per cent of all recipients of Newstart, single parent and youth allowance payments – have been using medical certificates to avoid mandatory job-seeking requirements.” (Newstart is a program of the Department of Human Services.)
In a statement e-mailed to iMediaEthics, a Department of Human Services spokesperson told iMediaEthics it didn’t complain to the press council about the article and expllained:
“The figures published by the Daily Telegraph, including references made to the “more than 70,000” recipients and ‘almost 8 per cent of all Newstart, Youth Allowance, and single-parent payment recipients’, were correct at the time of print, in that these figures accurately reflected the number of recipients using a medical certificate as an exemption from their Mutual Obligation Requirements.
“The department is unable to provide a further breakdown or estimate of these figures, as these are reflective of a specific point in time from approximately 12 months ago.”
At first, the Telegraph defended its story as accurate and claimed it was fair to call welfare abusers “dole grubs” and “dole bludgers,” according to the press council. Despite the dramatic headline and claims, the Telegraph claimed it wasn’t trying to “vilify welfare recipients” but that it really wanted to draw “public attention on the extent of the welfare burden on the federal budget.”
Despite that initial defense, the Telegraph later conceded there aren’t 70,000 people faking medical problems to avoid work. The newspaper changed its article to remove the number 70,000 and instead claimed it was the more vague “tens of thousands of dole recipients.”
The Telegraph wasn’t done tweaking its article post-publication, though. The press council noted the newspaper later deleted the “thousands” claim so that the story just says some dole recipients are dodging work. iMediaEthics has contacted the Telegraph’s publisher, News Corp. Australia, to ask what made it realize the error and change its tune.
While the Telegraph removed its error, posted an editor’s note and published a print clarification, the press council said it was “not satisfied” with the newspaper’s handling of the matter and ruled against it.
The headline now reads “Some dole recipients used medical loophole to avoid getting work.” The article itself doesn’t cite a number of alleged people misusing welfare. The article now carries an editor’s note reading:
“An earlier version of this article described all 70,000 dole recipients as dole bludgers. The Daily Telegraph accepts that not all people using medical certificates to avoid work are abusing a medical loophole.”
The Telegraph also has a link to the press council ruling against the article.
UPDATE: 3/10/2017 9:18 AM To note the department will respond next week.
UPDATE: 3/21/2017 7:51 PM With response from DHS