The Press Council considered whether its Standards of Practice were breached by the publication of an article headed “Allegedly Axey Evie” by The Daily Telegraph on 11 January 2017 online. The article said “Having been chopped herself, Sydney tranny Evie Amati allegedly sought to share the experience. The previous he apparently doesn’t like people who buy pies or milk” and added that Ms Amati “is a transgender union employee who used to be known as Karl” who had “transitioned to female four years ago.” It concluded “Click for frightening video” (which was a link to video of the attack) and noted “Ms Amati, currently in custody after being refused bail, is charged with intentionally causing grievous bodily harm and being way too Adelaide for Sydney.”
The Council received complaints from a number of people expressing concern that the article referred and gave prominence to Ms Amati’s transgender status and referred to Ms Amati in distressing and prejudicial terms such as “having been chopped herself”, as “a “tranny” and a “previous he” and included details of her former name “Karl”.
The Council asked the publication to comment on whether the material breached the applicable Standards of Practice requiring publications to take reasonable steps to ensure factual material is presented with reasonable fairness and balance and writers’ expressions of opinion are not based on significantly inaccurate factual material or omission of key facts (General Principles 3) and avoid contributing to substantial offence, distress, prejudice or risk to health and safety unless sufficiently in the public interest (General Principle 6).
The publication said the writer’s expressions of opinion are not based on significantly inaccurate factual material or omission of key facts, and simply state publicly known facts about the accused in the writer’s particular style of writing. It said his style of opinion writing is well recognised, that he targets a very specific audience who understand and appreciate his tone and approach and, as the style used in the opinion blog is reflective of his style, his readership would have recognised it as such.
The publication also said the public interest requires the media to provide the public with access to reliable information and it is equally significant to ensure that the due administration of justice is seen to be done in the eyes of the public. The publication said to not report such detail of Ms Amati’s transgender status would be to deny readers access to known relevant issues on the public record that had played an important role in influencing the accused’s life. It also said there were public safety and health grounds for publication about the arrest because of the threat posed to members of the public from such an attack.
The publication said the writer is well known among his readership audience as being firmly against violence and has written stridently on violence issues. The publication said reasonable steps were taken to avoid substantial offence, distress or prejudice, given the recognised nature of the opinion blog and its readership.
The Council notes the processing of this matter was delayed due to circumstances beyond its control, namely legal proceedings brought in the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) in respect of the article, which necessitated the temporary suspension of the Council’s consideration of the complaints.
The Council notes that the crime for which Ms Amati was accused and later convicted was one of serious violence which the community struggled to understand and, in commenting on it, columnists are free to express their opinions in strong terms and to use satire. However, publications are required to comply with the Council’s Standards of Practice which among other things, require publications to take reasonable steps to ensure factual material is presented with reasonable fairness and balance and writers’ expressions of opinion are not based on significantly inaccurate factual material or omission of key facts (General Principle 3).and avoid contributing to substantial offence, distress, prejudice or risk to health and safety unless sufficiently in the public interest (General Principle 6).
As to General Principle 3, the Council considers that a reasonable reader would have recognised that as an opinion piece the article was satirical and was using exaggeration to make its point. The Council considers that the facts summarised in the article about Ms Amati were reasonably accurate. Accordingly, the Council concludes that General Principle 3 was not breached.
As to General Principle 6, the Council considers that the reference to the accused “Having been chopped herself” referred to gender reassignment surgery and transgender people in an offensive way. The reference to Ms Amati as a “Sydney tranny” was also offensive. The suggestion that Ms Amati “sought to share the experience” of being “chopped” linked being transgender with Ms Amati’s violent act. The Council considers that the cumulative effect of these comments led to substantial offence. Accordingly, the Council concludes that the publication failed to take reasonable steps to avoid substantial offence, distress or prejudice and that General Principle 6 was breached in this respect.
The Council notes that NCAT, in September 2018, concluded in a decision in relation to this article that it was not persuaded that an ordinary reader would be so lacking in intelligence or taste that he or she would be incited to severe contempt for, or severe ridicule of, Ms Amati or transgender people at large. The Council notes that its task in assessing whether there has been a breach involves it applying its General Principles, and not the legislative provisions that were considered by NCAT.
This adjudication applies the following General Principles of the Council.
“Publications must take reasonable steps to:
3. Ensure that factual material is presented with reasonable fairness and balance, and that writers’ expressions of opinion are not based on significantly inaccurate factual material or omission of key facts.
6. Avoid causing or contributing materially to substantial offence, distress or prejudice, or a substantial risk to health or safety, unless doing so is sufficiently in the public interest.
Note – “Sufficiently in the public interest”: The necessary level of justification in the public interest is proportionate to the gravity of the potential breach of the Principles. Relevant factors to consider may include, for example, the importance in the public interest of: (a) ensuring everyone has genuine freedom of expression and access to reliable information; (b) protecting and enhancing independent and vigorous media; public safety and health; due administration of justice and government, personal privacy, and national security; (c) exposing or preventing crime, dishonesty and serious misconduct or incompetence (especially by public figures).”