Australia’s The Age unpublished a story after wrongly reporting a mansion was going to be sold for $52 million.
The house wasn’t actually sold, but The Age‘s December 2018 story reported the house would be the second-highest sold in Victoria for $52 million and named the owners.
Gary Ebeyan, one of the owners, complained to The Age and ultimately the Australian Press Council over the article, saying it was false and that the house was not even for sale. He added that it invaded his and his family’s privacy because people were asking questions about their finances, and that it prompted potential legal issues since the house’s market value, used by the local council for tax purposes, was not as high as the newspaper had reported.
The Age stood by its reporting as based on three different real estate agents’ claims and argued its story used distancing language to indicate it wasn’t confirmed. iMediaEthics wrote to The Age‘s parent company, which pointed to the ruling that it published.
“The publication, however, acknowledged that it had an obligation to take reasonable steps to ensure the accuracy of the report by seeking corroboration from the property owner, purchaser, or their representatives before publication and this was not done,” the press council said. “The publication said that it has taken proactive steps to prevent recurrence of these matters through investigation, debriefing, and meetings with involved team members to review journalistic obligations.”
That said, The Age denied invasion of privacy, saying it was not private information to report on a house or publicly available information about the house.
The press council ruled that the article broke press giudelines by being inaccurate and misleading, and invading the family’s privacy. The Age was also faulted for not responding quickly enough to the complaint about the article.
According to the council, The Age should have taken “further steps” to confirm its story since it didn’t have documentation. Once it found out the story was denied, The Age should have acted faster to correct or take “remedial action.” In terms of privacy, the council found that since the information was inaccurate, and the sale price reported was so high, it was an invasion of privacy.
“The complainant had a reasonable expectation that the details regarding his property and family would not be published as it was not accurate. The exceptionally high sale price referred to in the article drew significant attention to the complainant and his family. There was no such sale price and the stated sale price was inconsistent with the property’s market value,” the council reported. “The publication could have sought prior comment from the complainant but did not. The Council concluded that the publication did not take reasonable steps to avoid intruding on the complainant’s reasonable expectations of privacy, and there was no public interest in publishing the information.”