Monday, May 13, 2013

Who Fact-Checks The Fact-Checkers?

So now there is an Australian version of the PolitiFact website. Unfortunately they seem to have gotten off to a shaky start.

Here's their first article. It questions a claim made on a page on the Labor Party's website that
Labor has delivered strong protections for conditions like overtime and penalty rates that can’t be stripped away.

The claim that those conditions "can't be stripped away" is false. Laws can and do get created, modified and repealed all the time. It's what Parliaments do for a living. So, for stating a bald fact at least, PolitiFact gets one point.

That was the first of three links on PolitiFact's page. The second links to a media release from August 2011 by Senator Chris Evans, the then-Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations. From it, they quote the following:
The Labor Government introduced National Employment Standards and modern awards that can’t be stripped away, including penalty rates for working weekends, late nights, public holidays and overtime pay.
So far, so good. Now we know where the "can't be stripped away" claim comes from. However, in the next paragraph Evans says:
Tony Abbott has a simple choice: he must either immediately rule out any changes to National Employment Standards and modern awards or admit that the Coalition’s policy is in fact to allow basic entitlements like penalty rates to be cut.
That paragraph contradicts the preceding one. It implies that the entitlements can be stripped away by, for example, a suitably villainous conservative government.

So which is worse: Evans' contradiction, or PolitiFact quoting him out of context by omitting the second paragraph? Weighing up the former against the latter, I'm awarding them half a point.

Then it gets worse. The third and last link is to a speech made by Dave Oliver to the National Press Club on 6th February 2013. PolitiFact reports him as saying:
The Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary, Dave Oliver, declared weekend penalty rates were locked in "forever".
Err, nooo, he didn't say that at all. What he said was:
That’s why we’ll be asking the government to enshrine penalty rates for weekend work - in legislation, to protect it forever.
That is flat-out misrepresentation. Deliberate or accidental, I don't know - but it was either ignored or missed by whatever internal fact-checking system PolitiFact have in place.

Giving them the benefit of a doubt and assuming it wasn't intentional, I'll deduct just half a point. With a bonus stern wag of the finger and an admonishment for not checking, well, their facts.

So, with a final score of 1/3 I'm awarding them a 'Whooops!'.

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