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Reuters apologises for departure from 'fair, accurate and reliable journalism'

Reuters has apologised for departing from its commitment to "fair, accurate and reliable journalism" over an article about an Australian mining entrepreneur, Australian Financial Review reported.

It followed a legal dispute between Andrew Forrest, founder of Fortescue Metals Group, and Jonathan Barrett (photo), Reuters deputy bureau chief for Australia and New Zealand, based in Sydney. The Review said Barrett was “A dogged, award-winning former reporter at this newspaper,” who once took leave to work as a Christian missionary in Burkina Faso.

The dispute began in May 2017 when Barrett claimed in an article that Forrest used laws designed to protect the land rights of Aborigines to stop mining companies accessing one of his cattle stations in Western Australia.

When a couple of mining prospectors pegged out an area on one of Forrest's properties that they planned to dig up, Forrest successfully argued in court they hadn't obtained a necessary permit from a local Aboriginal group, according to the article.

Forrest was deeply hurt by the article, according to his lawyer, because it implied he pretended to be a philanthropist and was actually a hypocrite who enriched himself at the expense of the most disadvantaged people in the community.

On 30 June, Forrest's lawyers formally requested an apology. Reuters took the rare step of withdrawing the article but did not apologise, the Review said.

Forrest continued to pursue Reuters and four months after the article was withdrawn he filed a lawsuit in the Australian Federal Court seeking aggravated damages on the grounds that Reuters knew that what it published was wrong at the time.

Neither side would discuss the negotiations, the Review said, but on 27 February Reuters issued an apology that said: "Reuters did not intend to convey that Forrest misused the Mining Act, lacks respect for the indigenous people and their spiritual beliefs, or acted in a hypocritical fashion. We regret any misimpression created by the article.

“The article did not adequately provide comment from all involved, and Reuters failed to give Forrest an opportunity to respond to certain criticisms that he rejects. The article also mischaracterised a criticism attributed to the head of an entity that oversees landholdings of an Aboriginal group.” ■

Australian Financial Review