Complaint Against The Daily Telegraph Newspaper.
Jim Saleam, April 10 2007
I would make a complaint against The Daily Telegraph newspaper.
The article complained of appeared in the edition of Saturday March 3 2007 at page 5. It was authored by Mr. Joe Hildebrand and was entitled “Bikini nazis hit the beach and stir the pot”. A copy of the article is provided here.
The article was written by a senior political reporter of the newspaper. This means that he has some latitude in his reporting. Therefore the motivations of the writer may become an issue in any faulted piece as would the inter-relationship of the writer with his subject have some relevance.
A letter was sent by me to the Editor of the paper criticising the article. This letter (as provided) was not published. On this occasion, given that another letter by me sent for publication in 2005 (and also in response to an item by Mr. Hildebrand) was published, I assume that the newspaper has now taken a certain declamatory position where I and/or the Australia First are concerned.
The proper course is to complain to the Australian Press Council.
There are doubts concerning the objectivity of Mr. Hildebrand in any matter involving me.
As the article truthfully reveals, I refused to speak with him.
In 2005, Mr. Hildebrand published in The Daily Telegraph work-details of a member of Australia First and details of another man who he said was a member of Australia First. In my view, this was irrelevant to his then-article and a serious breach of whatever 'ethics' it is the journalist profession alleges it follows. In December 2005, Mr. Hildebrand stated I was a former neo-nazi. Circumstances militated against complaints at that time.
In January 2006, Mr. Hildebrand and I had (although he may deny) a verbal altercation at Cronulla concerning the publication of the said work-details. I also understand and have publicly stated that Mr. Hildebrand has maintained a connection with a so-called 'anti racist' website and has operated an improper relationship with them.
In other words, there is no reason why Mr. Hildebrand would deal properly with me, a matter of relevance where it is the situation that he exercises discretion at the newspaper.
Grounds Of Complaint.
Breach Of Australian Press Council Principle 5, “headlines should fairly reflect the tenor of an article…”
The article is entitled “Bikini nazis hit the beach and stir the pot …”.
The headline distorts the facts. The only 'Nazi' cited in the article seems to be me and I am in this article characterized as a ”former” one.
It could be thought a 'bikini nazi' might be akin to a femmo-nazi, or a surf-nazi, or a sex-nazi or a “food nazi”, or any number of other types of Nazi (sic) simply based upon amusing variants of the entertainment-power of the English language.
However, given the article is about politics which are later characterised in terms like “white supremacist” and “white nationalism” and further with the appearance of a “former neo-nazi”, a “bikini nazi” takes on a special significance.
There is no evidence the girl referred to in the article described herself in any way as a “Nazi”, let alone I, as the supposed “former neo-nazi”, was at the beach in a bikini.
The article sought to use the term “nazi” and to cast it over the subjects. I have little doubt that this was Mr. Hildebrand's actual purpose, whether he chooses to deny it or not. However, in this case, it suffices to say that the headline misleads the reader to believe that neo-nazis are the subjects of the article.
Breach of Australian Press Council Principle 1 “should not publish what they know or could be reasonably be expected to know is false or fail to take reasonable steps to check the accuracy of what they report ..” “as long as readers are readily able to recognise what is fact and what is opinion …”
The article begins: “White supremacist party, Australia First ….”
Reply: The Australia First Party cannot be characterised as “white supremacist”. It seems to be a phrase used to mean that the party espouses a racist idea that persons of the white race are 'supreme' over others.
This was not the historical origin of the term. Rather, it meant a process whereby whites in the States of the former Confederate States of America became “supreme” over minority governments formed by the Reconstruction occupation. Over time, it came to mean the effective disenfranchisement of Negro voters in these States. The term has no Australian relevancy.
The Australia First party does not use this term to describe itself. There is nothing in its material or public statements which state the party posits a racist doctrine asserting the 'supremacy' of the white race. (I certainly do not personally espouse this view and I would challenge Mr. Hildebrand to produce a single item under my by-line.)
It may be the opinion of the newspaper that the Australia First Party does believe in such a thing. But there is no evidence presented. The newspaper did not distinguish fact and opinion. Had the newspaper conducted a full review of available material of Australia First, nothing would be located to confirm that view. Had a full review been conducted of available material, a reasonable writer would not have written that line.
Breach of Australian Press Council Principle1: “should not publish what they know or could be reasonably be expected to know is false or fail to take reasonable steps to check the accuracy of what they report”; Principle 5, “not misrepresenting or suppressing relevant facts..”, “as long as readers are readily able to recognise what is fact and what is opinion …”
The article says: “Dr. Saleam, a former neo-nazi …”.
Reply: I have never been a neo-nazi. Nonetheless, I am pleased on this occasion to be a “former” one (sic).
This section is a multilayered falsehood.
First: the section says that I am a former advocate of this ideology. This is asserted as a fact and not as the opinion of the author. The reader does not know how I repudiated this ideology, nor whether the conversion was genuine.
Second: the section suggests I have adhered to this ideology at an unknown point. It asserts this as a fact and not as the opinion of the author of the article. The reader could assume that it was a recent commitment, just as recently abandoned (giving it relevancy) and a fact not open to challenge.
Third: the overwhelming weight of the objective evidence certainly affirms that I must be, at the very least on Mr. Hildrebrand's version, a “former” neo-nazi. I have presented to the Australian Press Council voluminous material that proves at a level of proof beyond reasonable doubt I am not a neo-nazi. This material suggests that if I am a “former” one then my 'conversion' (sic) was long ago.
This material was provided in a 2005 complaint against the journalist Greg Roberts of The Australian. Rather than re-submit that material, I would provide the Internet references for members of the Council:
By implication, Mr. Hildebrand either accepts this, or some other evidence known to him, to establish I am at least - a “former” neo-nazi.
The questions seem to be: when did I become a “former” one (sic) and was I ever one at all? In the first case, it would have no relevance if it was at a point so long removed as to be a distortion of one's beliefs and actions requiring balance; if it was the second case, then it would be a falsity which would demand instant repudiation.
It seems to me as a complainant that I have battled a certain set of journalists and publications which have tried to write my life-history for me. The Nazi bit has several variants and under the recent impress of a local anti racist movement (such as the one with which Mr. Hildebrand has had some connection), it has been fabricated as a 1980's manifestation which had been public - with Hitler piks, paramilitary uniforms and swastikas. Unfortunately for these critics, while it is true (as the Council knows and decided upon in 2004 in a matter involving the Sun-Herald) I attended for special reasons (as I describe it) a so-called 'Nazi' meeting in 1975 - and for some weeks deliberately and with an idea in mind associated with these persons - it is equally true this type of connection (sic) ceased and I was known to have become a trenchant opponent of neo-nazism by the end of that year. If we allow I was a neo-nazi at any point, it is now 32 years ago and obviously a misrepresentation of any view I now hold to use it as a quick one line job description. I would say that this version of events should be something with which the newspaper would be familiar.
The newspaper also knows I am the most thorough-going critic of any manifestation of neo-nazism in Australia and have published upon it at great length - over decades.
However, the historical truth is more obscure and I have published on this too. Mr. Hildebrand and the newspaper should reasonably know of these materials. It is true that I had taken a membership in the leftist Worker Student Alliance. It was also true I had associated with every manifestation of the Right wing in Queensland between 1970 and 1975, had been at private homes and premises and was an inveterate collector of information and so forth. It is true I met so-called 'neo-nazis' and delved directly into their Special Branch police-connected activities prior to 1975. I would still repudiate I was ever a neo-nazi and state comfortably that I never joined a neo-nazi organization, whatever “opinion” the newspaper might express. But in this case generally I am merely stating that Mr. Hildebrand did not separate fact from opinion.
The entire affair of “former neo-nazi” could not be settled by journalism, other than by an expansive piece which the subject does not deserve. The newspaper has imposed upon me a composite falsehood, misrepresenting and suppressing facts about an issue and not differentiating opinion from fact.
Breach of Australian Press Council Principle 5, “not misrepresenting or suppressing relevant facts..”
The article says: “…. convicted of organising a shotgun attack on a black politician ..”
Reply: In conjunction with the phrase “white supremacist”, attacking a black politician misrepresents me, my history and the conviction itself.
The victim of this assault was hardly then a black politician, but rather an organizer of an officially sanctioned terrorist movement that has since reduced black South African people to poverty and misery. Be that as it may, he was not a 'politician'. He was an activist.
The other problem with this section is, that whilst I was most certainly “convicted” of an offence, this mere statement falsifies the subsequent history of the conviction. The reader would easily assume that the conviction was not simply extant, but unchallenged and unchallengeable.
Unfortunately, for The Daily Telegraph, the validity of the conviction was seriously undermined by two public things: the public discrediting of the officer in charge of the case (Royal Commission Into The New South Wales Police Service, March 11, 12, 13 1997) for perjury, lying to Commission investigators, stealing, falsification of official records and other offences ; a communication to me by the Inspector General Of Intelligence And Security (March 13 1997) confirming by implication ASIO deception of the appellate court in my matter and providing new evidence. I could further say that other exculpatory material has been produced from official records and by investigation. I have published all this upon the Internet.
While I am yet to take the matter back to court for an application for judicial review, it not balanced, fair or reasonable to simply say I was “convicted”. I note that, despite the controversy about the case and spin-offs from the case, no newspaper is yet to consider the evidence objectively (though one fairly reported in 1997 I would challenge the conviction).
It is therefore to misrepresent and suppress relevant facts to simply say that I was convicted of this offence.
Breach of Australian Press Council Principle1: “should not publish what they know or could be reasonably be expected to know is false…”
The article says: “an internal party newsletter … says Australia First wanted to use Cronulla to spark a wave of white nationalism.”
Reply: No internal party newsletter has used the phrase “white nationalism”.
I assume this phrase is used by the author to marry up the text with white supremacism, black politicians and Nazis.
Because the précis of whatever text is quoted (sic), is inaccurate, the author of the article deliberately misquoted. If that is so, it may demonstrate collaterally, the Daily Telegraph article was falsely crafted.
Breach of Australian Press Council Principle 8, “it should provide a reasonable and swift opportunity for a balancing response in the appropriate section of the publication..”
The newspaper did not publish my letter to the editor. The content of the letter was not unreasonable and the newspaper published in 2005 two other letters in which I rejected the neo-nazi label.
In this case, the newspaper considered itself above complaint and that it should provide no redress.
General Summation: The Public Interest
The complainant says that the offending article is a composite falsehood.
What is my belief? It is my belief that Mr. Hildebrand has, yet again, set out to smear an individual and a political organization. His smear was endorsed by the publication which refused to publish a letter to the editor, denying his facts.
Of course, this complaint is not about my belief, but about the complaints system of the Australian Press Council. And I must keep to that.
The specific issues I raise are defined in Principles One, Five and Eight of the Australian Press Council's Statement Of Principles.
However, there is also the general matter of “public interest”.
The public interest is served by journalism, not by propaganda. This article reads as a smear, using distorted information to suggest some connection between the organization and Nazis, actual ones (albeit in bikinis) and “former” ones, white supremacists and violence. There is no connection.