Australia’s Sunday Mail had a conflict of interest when it published three front page stories about the fees sports teams have to pay in order to use Stadiums Queensland, the Australian Press Council ruled.
Why? Because the Mail’s parent company, News Corp. Australia, is a “major shareholder” of one of the teams, the Broncos, and thus is impacted by the fees. However, the Mail didn’t disclose that conflict. Even more, the press council noted that it previously had warned the Mail that it should disclose such conflicts.
“The Council considers that News Corp Australia has a financial interest in the level of the rent and levies imposed on the Broncos by Stadiums Queensland and that it failed to take reasonable steps to ensure this conflict of interest was adequately disclosed in the articles,” the press council ruled.
A reader complained about the April 2018 print news articles, “Stadiums Showdown” and “We’ve been hit high,” and editorial “Ball Dropped on Footy.” The articles claimed “price gouging by Stadiums Queensland is threatening the fiscal viability of the state’s top footy clubs” and that the Broncos “struggle to survive under the current economic structure being imposed by Stadiums Queensland.”
The Mail argued the lack of disclosure was fine because the reports weren’t only about the Broncos and because the Mail thought it was an important story about the stadium funds. Further, the Mail said its internal practices don’t dictate disclosing the financial relationship unless it’s a story about “the financials or management of the club,” the press council reported. “It said that given the number of stories it publishes about the Broncos, it is not feasible to reference News Corp Australia’s ownership each time and its ownership of the team is well known amongst its readership. The publication said these articles were not considered to fall within the category requiring disclosure,” according to the press council.
The press council, however, rejected that argument, saying the issues in the article were “of financial concern” to News Corp’s investment. Further, even if many readers knew about News Corp.’s relationship to the team, not all readers would have.