Fact-Checking Website Politifact Australia Came Under Scrutiny Itself On First Day

That didn’t take long.

The new fact-checking website Politifact Australia has itself fallen under scrutiny – within hours of its launch.

Twitter users launched a barrage of criticism against the website, claiming that Politifact Australia had, in their first ‘Truth-o-Meter’ entry, used “misrepresentation and out-of-context quotations to reach an absurd verdict.

The Truth-o-Meter entry in question looked at a press release from Senator Chris Evans, in which he said:

“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.

“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.”

Politifact Australia examined the first half of the statement, and found it to be “false.”

Their interpretation of the statement was that it was implying that National Employment Standards and modern awards introduced by the Labor government could never be stripped away by future governments.

Twitter user @_robcorr led the charge. He says that Politifact’s interpretation of the quote is a glaring misunderstanding of what was said.

@jessradio added that with the context of the statement’s second half, this should be obvious: “The second part of Evans’ statement makes PolitiFact’s corresponding analysis flat-out wrong.”

They believe that Mr Evans original statement was obviously saying that workplace rights could not be stripped away by employers, not by future governments.

This would appear to make sense – given that the second half of Evans’ statement specifically asks Tony Abbott to promise not to make future changes to the National Employment Standards. Why would he ask Abbott not to do something after saying it was impossible to do?

@PolitifactOz, the website’s Twitter feed, did not directly respond to the criticisms.

A blog post was posted on the site defending their claim, in which they re-iterated their original judgement and said that this was “a glaring example about the value PolitiFact puts on words”, but didn’t address the criticism that they had misunderstood the wording of the statement and taken it out of context:

“There has been considerable debate about a ruling on our site in relation to Labor’s industrial relations reforms.”

“The ruling gave a ‘False’ to the claim, made on the ALP website, that “Labor has delivered strong protections for conditions like overtime and penalty rates that can’t be stripped away”.

“Our point is that a future parliament could legislate away such rights.”

Judging by the length and vigour of the last day’s Twitter exchanges over one posting, Politifact will be having its own scrutiny scrutinised in the coming months as the election promises – and attacks – proliferate.

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