Australia

Andrew Bolt breached media standards calling Greta Thunberg 'deeply disturbed', watchdog rules

Andrew Bolt breached standards with a column about Greta Thunberg's disability, the Press Council has found. Source: AAP

The Australian media watchdog has found Andrew Bolt breached press standards by attempting to "diminish the credibility" of Greta Thunberg on the basis of her disability.

A column by News Corp writer Andrew Bolt mocking teenage climate change activist Greta Thunberg breached standards by attempting to "diminish the credibility" of her opinions on the basis of her disability, the Australian media watchdog has found.

The column, published online in August last year, referred to the 17-year-old as "freakishly influential", "deeply disturbed", and a "strange girl".

"I have never seen a girl so young, with so many mental disorders, treated by so many adults as a guru," Bolt wrote.

The Australian Press Council found the article breached General Principle 6 of its standards of practice, which requires media organisations to avoid causing offence, distress, prejudice, or a substantial risk to the health and safety of an individual, unless publishing the story is in the public interest.  

The council did not, however, find the article in breach of General Principle 3, which concerns whether the published material is factual.

Ms Thunberg has publicly discussed her Asperger syndrome diagnosis on multiple occasions, describing it as her "superpower". 

"[The column] attempts to diminish the credibility of Ms Thunberg’s opinions on the basis of her disabilities and by pillorying her supporters on the basis of her disabilities," the watchdog's findings, published on Thursday, read.

"In doing so the Council considered that the publication did not take reasonable steps to avoid causing or contributing to substantial distress, offence by people with disabilities, and their families or prejudice towards people with disabilities expressing their opinions in public."

Bolt, however, doubled down on the column, describing Ms Thunberg as a "freakishly influential goddess of global warming" in an article published online on Wednesday night.

In it, he said the Australian Press Council would "rather hear sweet green fables than blunt truths" and accused it of "sabotaging honest debate".

"It is a symptom of autism and forms of Asperger’s to not ‘really care about social codes’ – or not fully understand them. That often means not tolerating compromises with other people or their views," he wrote.

Following the original column, Ms Thunberg hit back at the conservative commentator, stating she was "deeply disturbed" by the "hate and conspiracy campaigns allowed to go on and on".

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