Calling financial specialist a forensic accountant is misleading & wrong - iMediaEthics

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The Courier-Mail was inaccurate and misleading when it reported on the findings of a person identified as a forensic accountant about a local college’s funds, the Australian Press Council ruled.

The Presbyterian and Methodist Schools Association (PMSA), which owns the college in question, Clayfield College, complained to the council over five February 2018 articles. The articles claimed the college was “on the brink of collapse” because of alleged “financial mismanagement” by PMSA, an  that the college’s students had “alarming falls” in scores for university entrance exams. That came from a report by a “forensic accountant” affiliated with a school parents’ group “Beyond PMSA.”  The PMSA also complained about a report saying a former executive manager got a payoff after a scandal.

The PMSA complained, saying that the person identified as a forensic accountant and accountant was actually a “finance and corporate governance specialist” and not an accountant of any type; the PMSA said is an important distinction. According to the press council ruling,  the specialist “has no accounting or financial qualifications,” making his findings questionable, the PMSA argued. Further, the PMSA said the articles didn’t note other rankings of its graduates or include them in context.

iMediaEthics has written to the Courier Mail for comment. The PMSA told iMediaEthics by e-mail:

“The PMSA is pleased that the Australian Press Council found The Courier-Mail misled readers labeling their source a “forensic accountant” when he had no formal accounting, financial or corporate governance qualifications.

“We believe that by incorrectly quoting the source as a ‘forensic accountant’, the article gave undue credibility and legitimacy to the source’s information which contained incorrect conclusions and sensationalist assumptions.

“Unfortunately for our schools’ students, staff and parents, the interest in this article led to further sensationalist articles focusing on the PMSA and our schools including those unfairly criticising our students’ academic achievements. We believe these articles would not have been published had the initial inaccurate article not been so controversial.

“The PMSA is pleased that we have taken this action to protect our schools and our students and staff from misleading media reporting. We hope this judgement will contribute to more fair, balanced and correct reporting from The Courier-Mail in the future.”

The Courier-Mail didn’t disagree with the complaint that the report writer is only a specialist and not an accountant, and agreed to correct articles to give the correct title. “Nevertheless, it said he has financial qualifications through an MBA and over 20 years’ of management experience and that he did conduct a forensic analysis of PMSA’s publicly available financial data,” the press council said of the Courier-Mail’s response. “The publication said this analysis was scrutinised by forensic accountants before it was released.”

However, the Courier-Mail disagreed with the complaints about its reporting on the school performance as accurate.

The council agreed with both sides that it was an error  to call the report writer a forensic accountant or an accountant. The council found it to be misleading as well because it made the report seem more credible. As such, the council ordered the Courier-Mail to publish a correction. The press council rejected the PMSA’s other complaints about the Courier-Mail‘s reporting on school performance and former executive manager.

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