22 Mar 2016
CU LAB: An untrue newspaper article is going to damage my business. What can I do?
Pip Mitchell sets out your options when your business is facing unfair and untrue media scrutiny.
Well the first thing you need to work out is what is that they are actually going to say. Have they given you the opportunity to comment first? Is it something which is factually correct, factually misleading or is it simply an opinion piece which might lead to something more and inferences being drawn?
If it’s the first, if something is factually incorrect, what you need to do is get in front of them as soon as possible with the proof to show that they are factually wrong. If they then go ahead and publish, or continue to publish and don’t retract, when you have given them evidence that they are factually wrong they then face possible sanctions from the Australian Press Council down the track, as well as embarrassment if you get out on the front foot yourself immediately.
So speaking to them as soon as possible is always the sensible thing to do, and it might be a good idea to use either an internal media consultant or an external media adviser if you have somebody on staff who can actually help you with that, because they will have connections. They will know journalists they will be able to help you manage that process.
If you are not getting much love that way, if it's actually an opinion piece and it’s a question of interpretation, you might find the newspapers are a lot less willing to print a retraction or to print a correction. For them that is an opinion piece, it’s a matter of interpretation, they'll do things their way. If that’s the case you might want to think about other alternatives to get your own view point out. That might be issuing your own press release which refers to what is being published, puts in your own correction, and puts in your own opinions.
Alternatively, if you are not in a position to put out a press release, or don't think that will be taken seriously, the other thing to think about is where is the damage going to be to you, to your business, and to your reputation. If it's with your customers or your suppliers, then a letter sent out to your customers and suppliers, notifying them of this press coverage and giving them your side of the story, might be a good way to manage that damage in your own field even if you can't immediately deal with the damage more publicly.
Another thing to think about is to actually make a complaint to the Australian Press Council. Pretty much every print newspaper in Australia and most of the reputable online newspapers are members of the Australian Press Council, and that involved rural newspapers, online newspapers, even recent entrants to our market like the Huffington Post. Those people are all members of the Australian Press Council, that means they're signing up to the standards and the policies of the Australian Press Council and you can make complaints to the Australian Press Council if you think someone has put something in there which is factually wrong or misleading.
The one problem with that is you are not going to get an immediate response; it can take months for an investigation to go ahead. But, if the investigation is borne out even in part, then the newspaper is required as part of their membership of that Council to print an article which will explain the findings of the Australian Press Council and put in whatever retractions are appropriate.
Other things to think about though when there is press which may be damaging is not just about reputation but also other legal issues. One thing that might happen is if you are a listed company and whether that press actually would damage the value or the price of the shares and might trigger the need to consider a disclosure to the market or otherwise give consideration to the continuous disclosure obligations that you actually have under the ASX Listing Rules.
Other issues you might need to think about are if you have any particular contracts on foot with suppliers or customers where reputation or things like the value of company may be an issue. You may also think about notifications to those customers or suppliers,. not just for reputation management but for any contractual obligations you have.