headed “Kate Malonyay’s mother laments loss of a life full of promise”, was published on the website on 3 May 2013. The second, headed “Secrets and lies”, was published on the website on 9 January 2014 and in print a day later.
The articles arose from the killing of Kate Malonyay, after which police traced her former partner, Elliott Coulson, to a Gold Coast apartment. When they entered the room, he ran to the balcony and jumped to his death. The first article was published on the day of Ms Malonyay’s funeral on the NSW Central Coast. The second article was published after release of a Coroner’s report into the death of Mr Coulson. It recounted the relationship between him and Ms Malonyay and the events surrounding their deaths.
Michael Burns, Ms Malonyay’s cousin, complained on behalf of her mother and brother. He said her funeral was a private event and in attending, the publication intruded on the family’s privacy. He said by including a picture of the memorial card, quotes from the eulogy and a photograph of the family carrying the coffin, the first article had exploited the family and breached their privacy, without sufficient justification for doing so in the public interest. He said the family had refused media requests for interviews and her brother had made it clear in a Facebook post that media were not invited to the funeral.
Mr Burns said the second article inaccurately reported that a police officer said Mr Coulson had said “just let go” when the officer grabbed his forearm as he stood on the balcony ledge. In fact, the police officer told the Coroner that Mr Coulson said nothing. Mr Burns said the publication took more than a month to correct this error, which was much too slow. He also complained that the article unfairly presented assertions about Ms Malonyay’s state of mind as if they were facts, even though he had already told the publication about the family’s concerns with the first article.
The publication replied that it had not known the funeral was private. It said although a friend of Ms Malonyay had posted a Facebook message asking reporters not to contact Ms Malonyay’s friends, the friend’s later public post about the funeral did not say it was to be a private event. It said her brother’s Facebook message was only accessible to his Facebook friends.
The publication said the funeral chapel and gardens are open to the public, and, on arrival, the journalist approached a uniformed police officer and obtained permission to attend. It said he and a photographer had remained at a respectful distance, he was handed the memorial card at the funeral, and the eulogy was broadcast outside the chapel.
The publication said it had corrected the inaccuracy about the words “just let go” when made aware of the mistake. It said the second article included information from the Coroner’s report that it had not previously published and was not inappropriate or insensitive.
The Press Council’s General Principles require news and comment to be presented fairly and with respect for people’s privacy and sensibilities, although this does not require omission of matters which are on the public record or significantly in the public interest. Its Privacy Principles require that in gathering news, journalists should not unduly intrude on the privacy of individuals and that members of the public caught up in newsworthy events should not be exploited.
In this case, the brother’s Facebook post about the funeral was not accessible by the publication and the friend’s earlier Facebook post was not sufficiently specific as to constitute a request from the family and friends for the media not to attend. Nevertheless, the family had avoided contact with the media and the publication was aware of the friend’s Facebook post requesting privacy from the media for her and other friends of Ms Malonyay.
The Council considers that, in general, publications should check directly with the family or funeral director whether they can attend a funeral, publish images of it or quote material from the ceremony. It does not consider that coverage of this funeral was of sufficient importance in the public interest to justify publishing the material without the consent of the family. A matter is not in the public interest merely because members of the public are interested in it.
The Council also does not consider it was reasonable to rely on the apparent approval from a police officer for them to attend, especially as the publication already had reason to believe its presence might not be welcome. Accordingly, the complaint relating to attending the funeral and publishing material obtained by doing so is upheld as a breach of privacy.
The Council considers the inaccuracy in the second article about the police officer’s words to the Coroner was very serious. The delay of almost a month between learning of the error and publishing a correction was excessive and, although the correction was on page 2 of the newspaper, it lacked a heading to identify the subject matter. By contrast, the article to which it related had occupied all of page 22 and had been very prominently referred to on the cover of the Summer lift-out section in which it appeared. Accordingly, the complaint about late and inadequate correction is upheld.
The Council did not consider, however, that the second article breached its Principles. The article appeared about eight months after the funeral and its coverage was not unduly insensitive or sensationalist. Accordingly, this aspect of the complaint is not upheld.
Relevant Council Standards (not required for publication):
This adjudication applies the Council’s General Principle 4: “News and comment should be presented honestly and fairly, and with respect for the privacy and sensibilities of individuals. However, the right to privacy is not to be interpreted as preventing publication of matters of public record or obvious or significant public interest. Rumour and unconfirmed reports should be identified as such.” It also applies part of Privacy Principle 1: “In gathering news, journalists should seek personal information only in the public interest. In doing so, journalists should not unduly intrude on the privacy of individuals and should show respect for the dignity and sensitivity of people encountered in the course of gathering news”; and part of Privacy Principle 7: “Members of the public caught up in newsworthy events should not be exploited. A victim or bereaved person has the right to refuse or terminate an interview or photographic session at any time.”