Making a complaint

INTRODUCTION

This page provides preliminary information for people who are thinking about complaining to the Australian Press Council about material published by an Australian newspaper, magazine or website. It addresses the following four issues:

What can be complained about?
Who can complain?
When can a complaint be made?
How can a complaint be made?

At the bottom of this page you will find a link to the Council's online complaint form. No fees are charged for using the Council’s complaints process.

For information on what happens after a complaint is made, see Handling of Complaints

Click here for a copy of the Council's general information brochure. Click here to watch a short video about the work of the Council

WHAT CAN BE COMPLAINED ABOUT?

Types of material

Complaints may relate to news reports, articles, editorials, letters, cartoons, images and other published material. The Council does not consider complaints about advertising material, except where the complaint is that the material is not clearly identifiable as advertising.

Where it is more appropriate for a complaint to be dealt with by another organisation, the Council will suggest that the complainant raises the matter with that organisation. This may occur where, for example, the complaint relates to advertising, or to broadcasts on radio or television.

Types of publications

The Council considers complaints about material published in print or digital form by publishers which are “constituent bodies” of the Council. It can also consider complaints about the methods used by publications to obtain information which is subsequently published.

Most Australian newspapers and magazines, and their associated digital outlets, are constituent bodies. So are some of the leading digital-only publishers. See the full list here. The only major newspaper which is not published by a constituent body is The West Australian.

The Council may also consider complaints about material published by other publishers. But, unlike constituent bodies, those publishers are not under a legal obligation to cooperate with the Council or to publish any adjudication by it.

Complaints are treated by the Council as being against the publication, not any individual journalist or editor. But in most complaints the Council’s consideration is likely to focus on the actions of journalists, editors or other media practitioners.

WHO CAN COMPLAIN?

General rule

In general, any person may lodge a complaint about published material. Unless there are exceptional circumstances, the Council will not consider complaints by one publisher member of the Council against another.

“Secondary complaints” 

Where a complainant is not personally identified or directly affected by the published material, the complaint may be considered as a “secondary complaint” and some different procedures may apply (see Handling of Complaints).

Download a copy of the fact sheet Secondary Complaints.

WHEN CAN A COMPLAINT BE MADE?

General rule

A person can complain to the Council

  • after complaining to the relevant publication; or
  • at the same time as a complaint is made to the publication; or
  • without having complained to the publication.

Where a complaint is made directly to the Council, it may decide to

  • commence its consideration of the complaint; or
  • in some circumstances, ask the complainant to raise the complaint directly with the publication and then come back to the Council if its further involvement is sought.

Time limits

Complaints normally should be made within thirty days of the first publication of the relevant material. Where appropriate, a complaint can be made with a request that the Council delays consideration of it until a specified event (e.g. recovery from serious illness)

Where the complaint is lodged out of time, the complainant must seek approval for consideration, on the basis of one or more of the following:

  • there was a reasonable justification for the complainant not having previously noticed the material; or
  • the complaint involves a number of articles over a lengthy period; or
  • the complainant had spent time unsuccessfully seeking a response from the publication; or
  • there were other good grounds for delaying submission of a complaint.

Legal proceedings

The Council does not require complainants to undertake that they will not commence legal proceedings in relation to the material about which they are complaining. But they must tell the Council if they have done so or may do so.

If proceedings have actually been commenced, consideration of the complaint by the Council should not proceed unless there are special circumstances which mean that a delay would be unfairly detrimental to the complainant.

Further information on this topic is available in the Legal Proceedings fact sheet.

HOW CAN A COMPLAINT BE MADE?

General rule

  • Complaints should be made by completing the Council’s Complaint Form and sending it to the Council preferably online, or by email, fax or post. The contact details are on the form. See below for the link button to an online complaint form.

    A printable complaint form is downloadable here

Exception

  • If it is difficult or impossible for a complainant to make a written complaint by using the online or downloadable complaint form, they may contact the Council for advice and assistance. For contact details click here.

Legal and other professional representatives

  • The Council’s complaints process is intended to be as informal, prompt and economical as possible. Complaints must be made and pursued by complainants or their immediate family unless there are exceptional circumstances. Complainants and publications are not normally permitted to communicate with the Council through lawyers.

Confidentiality

  • Complainants must indicate when making a complaint if they wish some details to be kept confidential from the publication or not to be published in any Council adjudication on the matter. The Council will then explain circumstances in which this may be possible and the complainant can decide whether to proceed with the complaint.
     

    

 

 
 
 
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