The mysterious photo no-one took: New evidence for Press Council


Update 19 September, 2013: First the Press Council told complainant Anne Tan this photo was doctored, and not published by the Australian. We had evidence that it was, and in February Anne asked the Press Council to reopen its file. Seven months later the Press Council advised Anne that the photo WAS in the Oz and WAS NOT doctored. So how did the Press Council get it so wrong? Silence on that, so the mystery is still not solved.

APC Letter to Ms Tan

By Anne Tan
February 22 2013

On 6 November, 2012, an article with accompanying photo appeared on Michael Smith’s blog site. The post included a weblink to The Australian, and the article Gillard call would have ‘ led to fund inquiry’, by Hedley Thomas. Sandwiched between the headline and the article on Smith’s blog site was a photograph of the Prime Minister depicting her behind bars.

I immediately lodged a complaint with the Press Council: ‘…an article/accompanying photo in today’s copy of The Australian, and available through Google, has prompted me to [make] a complaint. I include the weblink and a copy of the page. I believe the photograph impugns the integrity of the PM, depicting her behind bars, and as a private citizen I am appalled at this journalism.’

The Press Council advised that no such photograph had appeared in the digital or hard copy editions of  The Australian and that it was a ‘doctored’ photo posted by a blogger. Obviously, my complaint was prompted by a ‘fiction’ and as such, I did not proceed. The Press Council dealt with the matter in a very timely fashion, contacted me by phone and email, and thanked me for bringing it to attention.

I was and remain shocked by such a blatant and disrespectful representation of the Prime Minister.

But what really happened…
by Margo Kingston

When Anne emailed me her complaint to the Press Council, I suggested she write a piece about her experience and noted that I would seek comment from Mike Smith before publication. I expected a ‘Yes, I photoshopped the pic., big deal, I reckon she’s guilty’.

You never know the truth till you call.

Mike’s response was surprising and disturbing, and we agreed that he would write a considered statement, published in full below.

You make up your own mind about what went on in Murdoch’s stable. I will email this post to the Press Council upon publication and request it to re-open the investigation in the light of new evidence.

We have published Anne’s correspondence with the Press Council under Mike’s statement.

Mike Smith responds:

I recall seeing that photo for the first time very early in the morning of 6 November, 2013 – Melbourne Cup Day.

Hedley Thomas had filed this report.

On reading Hedley’s story I cut and pasted some of his text and republished it on my blog for the purpose of eliciting commentary about the issues he disclosed.

I don’t know if I took the text directly from The Australian’s website or from a re-posting of Hedley’s story elsewhere on News Ltd sites like perhaps or one of the tabloid sites, or

I know that I lifted the photograph from Hedley’s story, wherever it was published, and thought it an apt pictorial allegory for the imputations I took from Hedley’s story.   I wanted to elicit commentary about the photograph as well as the text.

I wrote at the time the heading ‘The Australian newspaper’s picture editors get it!’, and by that headline I intended to convey the notion that whoever chose that photograph understood the thrust of the reporting on Ms Gillard’s course of conduct in The AWU Scandal.  By that I mean the things described in the documents, the transcription of the taped Record of Interview between Julia Gillard, Peter Gordon and Geoff Shaw on her departure from Slater and Gordon and other evidence I have printed on my blog.  In particular, Hedley’s piece on 6 November, 2012 reported that if Ms Gillard had simply disclosed to her real client the AWU the existence and misuse of the AWU-WRA at the same time as she spoke about it to her partners on 11 September, 1995 – then the union would have had the chance to sieze the assets of the association and recoup some money from the embezzlement.

I have searched for the photograph’s history and I see it was published by the Herald Sun on 17 July, 2011 here.

From the look of that posting of the photo, it’s of a flexible poster or banner printed on some textile or tarpaulin type material probably strung on a fence.

Below is an extract from the Michael Smith News Blog commenting on a story from Thomas Hedley in The Australian November 06, 2012. Note that despite what the Press Council said, the image was published by News Limited in the Herald Sun July 17,  2011.


The Australian newspaper picture editors get it!

 ONE telephone call from Julia Gillard or law firm Slater & Gordon would have led to confirmation that a union slush fund she had helped set up was a mystery to its own branch and almost certainly fraudulent, says a former Australian Workers Union boss…

From: Anne Tan
Subject: Gillard call would have ‘led to fund inquiry’ | The Australian
Date: 6 November 2012 8:18:18 AM AEDT
To: Paul Nangle <>

Dear Paul,

I am contacting you as a follow up to our previous conversation by telephone and email. I made a complaint about The Australian on 21 August about a campaign by the newspaper against the PM. Although I did not pursue the complaint at that time, an article/accompanying photo in today’s copy of the Australian, and available through Google, has prompted me to once again take up the complaint. I include the weblink and a copy of the page. I believe the photograph impugns the integrity of the PM, depicting her behind bars, and as a private citizen I am appalled at this journalism.

Do you wish me to also file my complaint in the appropriate box on Press Council website?

Kind regards,

Anne C. Tan

From: anne tan
Subject: Follow up
Date: 12 November 2012 2:31:21 PM AEDT
To: Paul Nangle <>

Hi Paul,

I have checked the website I mentioned and the picture plus article is on p.7. with the heading ‘The Australian newspaper picture editors get it!’ You are correct…looks like the photo has been ‘doctored’.

I certainly do not wish to blame a newspaper wrongly…had not even considered that someone would tamper with a photo like that.

I leave it in your capable hands.

Kind regards,


From: Paul Nangle <>
Subject: Australian Press Council response.
Date: 14 November 2012 7:58:35 AM AEDT
To: anne tan

Dear Ms Tan

Thank you for your complaint received on 9 November 2012.

As it appears the complaint concerns a ‘blogger’ and not The Australian, the Council will not be pursuing the complaint.

While we cannot assist you in this matter, the Council thanks you for bringing it to our attention.

Yours sincerely,

Paul Angle
Director of Complaints
Address: Suite 10.02, 117 York Street, Sydney 2000
Ph: (02) 9261 1930 or 1800 025 712
Fax: (02) 9267 6828

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  1. Can you make it simple for me?

  2. A letter I sent to James Campbell, journalist. Surely there are journos with some decency left (unlike Hedley Thomas).

    Dear Mr Campbell

    I’ve just been reading about your contribution to politics in this country on the Australians for Honest Politics blog and I have to say I’m horrified that you and your editor would stoop to such gutter politics (i.e. using a photograph that makes our Prime Minister look like a criminal). blog

    I honestly think journalism has just about reached its lowest point in this country.

    I don’t care whether you vote for Tony Abbott and the LNP or not but I think you and all Australian journalists should try honest, fair, unbiased, less-gutless reporting, (and if you can manage it, no misogynist reporting against a female PM either) for the sake of Australian democracy. 50% of us voted for her and so it would be now except for the mainstream media’s lies, mistruths and guttersniping – especially from people like Hedley Thomas’s (who has been the lowest of the low since his days in Qld) and his narrow-minded cohorts.

    I live in continual hope of a better, saner, more humane society in Australia – ideals that are unlikely under an Abbott LNP government. I hope your sense of decency surfaces in the future.

  3. margokingston says

    The plot thickens…

    A photographer I know believes the image in question was not doctored. ‘It’s a poster on canvas – you can see the holes cut to allow wind through. It’s tied to a fence and it’s back lit – you can see the direct light flare. The wavy nature of the “bars” is the shadow of the fence posts on the canvas poster, which is slightly crumpled. That’s what it looks like to me.’

    If this is right, then News Ltd, or whoever it got the shot from, has set up a photo, not doctored it. So why no photo credit?

    Who made the poster and where is it?

  4. margokingston says

    Here is the text of my email to the Press Council today:

    Hi. I have just published a piece which details new evidence concerning this complaint at the website I edit and co-publish: :

    As this new evidence contradicts your finding that the photo in question was doctored by a blogger, I request that your investigation be re-opened.

    Yours sincerely,

    Margo Kingston

    Australians for Honest Politics

  5. Anne C. Tan says

    I have emailed the Press Council today with reference to this published story on Margo Kingston’s website.


    ‘Further delving by Margo has discovered that the blogger had not photoshopped the image. I ask, therefore, that you further consider its provenance’.
    Kind regards,
    Anne C. Tan

  6. margokingston says

    The Press Council is on the case – today’s email to me:

    Dear Ms Kingston

    Thank you for your email dated 22 February 2013.

    We will contact you once we have assessed the matter.

    You are welcome to contact me directly if you wish to discuss the matter further.

    Yours sincerely,

    Paul Nangle
    Director of Complaints

  7. John Herring says

    If the original article and photo were submitted by a blogger or the Australian had of just used the doctored photo, surely the complaint should have been upheld as it relates to the publishing and the reason behind the Australian newspaper using it?

  8. Anne C. Tan says

    The Press Council’s reply to me:

    Dear Anne

    We received your emails and we will respond once we have had an opportunity to assess the matter.

    Yours sincerely,

    Paul Nangle
    Director of Complaints