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OA complaint dismissed: committee rules in favour of Insight

Ruling bodies have dismissed Optometry Australia’s (OA) complaints regarding Insight’s professional conduct and reporting of the organisation’s obscure management practices.

Following an investigation by Insight into OA’s corporate governance, OA president and chairman Mr Darrell Baker informed members the organisation had lodged a complaint with the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA).

OA’s accusations stemmed from Insight’s report, titled Optometry Australia membership ‘Confidential', which detailed the organisation’s refusal to place its current membership number on the public record. As previously reported, of the 15 health-related associations contacted by Insight, OA remains the only one not willing to transparently release its annual membership number.

Following numerous requests for information, Insight questioned Baker on 5 July about whether OA would keep this number a secret from its own members.

He was asked: “If a current member of Optometry Australia requests a precise membership number (the October 2018 number, for example) do you, as Board Chairman, undertake to ensure the information will be provided to the member, without question?”

Rather than answer the question, Baker filed a complaint with the MEAA’s National Ethics Committee.

 The MEAA is the journalists’ union, and requires members to uphold a code of ethics.

Underlying the code are the principles of honesty, fairness, independence and respect for the rights of others. The code states: “Journalists search, disclose, record, question, entertain, comment and remember. They inform citizens and animate democracy. They scrutinise power, but also exercise it, and should be responsible and accountable”.

Baker’s complaint reads: “It is our strong view that Mr [Coleby] Nicholson and Mr [Callum] Glennen’s aggressive communications and intimidation in seeking information over and above what we have already provided is not in the public interest as the Federal Government, Department of Health, the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Authority, the ACCC and our own members, do not demand this information.”

Baker’s letter also confirmed to the MEAA that in answering the request for its actual membership number, OA CEO Ms Lyn Brodie had previously provided Insight with a membership estimate – derived from calculating a percentage of the Optometry Board of Australia’s total registrants – rather than its own internal membership figure.

“Whilst managing this issue, we have continued to respond professionally to questions on various subject matters. In fact, a reasonable percentage of Insight’s content contains references to Optometry Australia and our initiatives.”
Darrell Baker, president OA

The complaint alleges a breach of MEAA Code of Ethics standards four, five and six, which relate to accuracy, fairness, independence, conflicts of interest and advertising.

Baker’s correspondence recognised the many other articles published by Insight about OA’s activities: “Whilst managing this issue, we have continued to respond professionally to Gunnamatta Media questions on various subject matters. In fact, a reasonable percentage of Insight’s content contains references to Optometry Australia and our initiatives.”

MEAA National Ethics Committee decision

In its response, the MEAA panel outlined OA’s complaint and advised that Insight journalist Glennen – the article’s author – is a member of the MEAA, while publisher Nicholson is not and could not be reviewed.

It wrote: “The panel spent significant time reviewing and discussing the complaint, and after due consideration has reached unanimous findings.”

It concluded Glennen had not acted inappropriately and his articles accurately reported that OA had not provided its membership figure as other organisations had.

“The panel is of the view that Mr Glennen's correspondence with Optometry Australia officers is professional and not aggressive or intimidating. He clearly, and firmly but politely, made his points about the fact that OA had not provided its actual membership numbers, which other like organisations have.

“He asked quite reasonable questions. The story is accurate in saying that OA has not revealed its actual membership numbers – only a percentage and a calculation based on that percentage which is not the actual membership number.”

The ruling went on to state: “The article written by Mr Glennen is professional and deals with an issue relevant to his trade readership: why is Optometry Australia the only one of 15 organisations in the health field to refuse to reveal actual membership numbers?”

The panel also believed that Insight’s articles had sufficiently presented OA’s views and answers.

“Optometry Australia's side of the story got a full and fair run. What Mr Glennen wrote in his lead paragraph of the May 31 story was true: ‘Optometry Australia’s (OA) membership figure is shrouded in obscurity, with Insight unable to ascertain the organisation’s current tally after initially being told the information was “confidential”.’

“Mr Glennen was indeed at first told the membership numbers were "confidential", and compared to the way the other organisations are transparent on their membership, OA's approach of listing a percentage of another organisation's figures could reasonably be argued to be obscure.”

Accordingly, on 19 August the MEAA National Ethics Committee dismissed OA’s complaint.

Baker also complained to the Australian Press Council (APC) about Glennen’s article, Gunnamatta Media and Nicholson. The APC decided “not to proceed with [the complaint]”.

While the APC can deal with complaints against publications, it does not deal with complaints about individual journalists or editors. The APC advised OA about the outcome and the complaint is now closed.


More reading

Optometry Australia membership "confidential"
Optometry Australia holds firm on "confidential" membership number


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