The Manningham Leader, an Australian newspaper, published a reader’s email as a letter to the editor without letting her know it would be published. Her email included personal details, including her full name, where she lives, and her daily commute on the bus, so the woman complained it was an invasion of privacy.
The Australian Press Council agreed. “The complainant had a reasonable expectation that the comments contained in her email would not be published without her prior consent,” the press council ruled. “The publication could have contacted her before publication and checked the email was submitted as a letter to the editor but did not do so.”
So what went wrong? The Manningham Leader, which is owned by News Corp. Australia, had published an article about the government’s bus services. At the end of the article, the paper wrote, “Now we have to make sure Spring St hears the message, so tell us what you think. Email, write letters or comment on our Facebook page. And we’ll tell the Government. Loud and clear. And for free.” The reader responded to that with an email about her use of the buses, expecting the paper to send it to the government, as it said in its article.
But, the paper turned around and published her email as the “letter of the week.” The newspaper didn’t contact her to either verify or fact check her letter, or to let her know it would be published. In fact, the Manningham Leader doubled down, claiming “to just pass on a batch of submitted letters to the government would be futile,” the press council wrote, adding that the whole incident was just a “misunderstanding” and that the paper typically publishes a ‘call for letters’ like it did in this case.”
While the council did rule the publication was an invasion of privacy, it rejected the woman’s complaint that her letter was obtained “by deceptive or unfair means.”
iMediaEthics has contacted News Corp. Australia for a response to the ruling.