The Australian Press Council has considered a complaint about an article in The Daily Telegraph on 13 June 2013 headed "Extreme danger – How elite police stopped heavily armed Muslims from hit on armoured van". It concerned an attempted armed robbery of a security van by three men described by a police officer as “heavily armed and prepared to use the weapons in a public place”. Two of the men were said to have links to a fourth man, described as a “radical young Muslim” involved in a previous raid on an ATM in relation to which the two men had been charged with withholding information from police.
The article said all four men were “devout Muslims who prayed together in various Sydney mosques” and the fourth man had been arrested for threatening the life of an intelligence officer. It also said that the fourth man had been under surveillance by counter-terrorism agencies for four years and “intended to give some of the money [from the ATM raid] to known extremists”.
Matthew Press, who had no connections with the men, complained that the headline and article placed gratuitous emphasis on the religion of the men who attempted to rob the security van. He said their actions were not due to their Muslim faith and therefore the headline reference to “heavily armed Muslims” was unjustified.
The publication said the report did not seek to denigrate Muslims, and that word had only been used once in the secondary part of the headline and twice in the article. It had been included after extensive interviews with police and revelations in court that phone calls had been intercepted between some of the men.
Under the Council’s Standards of Practice, publications should not place gratuitous emphasis on the religion of an individual or group, although they may report and express relevant opinions where it is in the public interest.
The complaint focused on the very prominent and unequivocal description of the three men as “heavily armed Muslims” in the secondary part of the headline. The Council considers that this reference was unjustifiably gratuitous because there was no evidence that their actions were due simply to being Muslim, rather than, for example, possibly being extremist or jihadist Muslims. A similar need to limit the scope of a reference to their faith would have arisen if, for example, they had been Christians or Jews.
Accordingly, the complaint about the headline is upheld on that ground. By contrast, the references in the body of the article were not gratuitous and, in any event, were sufficiently in the public interest to comply with the Council’s Standards.
Relevant Council Standards
(not required for publication by the newspaper):
This adjudication applies General Principle 8: “Publications should not place any gratuitous emphasis on the race, religion, nationality, colour, country of origin, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, illness, or age of an individual or group. Where it is relevant and in the public interest, publications may report and express opinions in these areas”.