The Press Council considered a complaint about an article headed “Killer shows no remorse” published in print in The Toowoomba Chronicle on 23 September 2019.
The article concerned the deaths of two young boys in a Toowoomba home on 28 July 2007. The article provided graphic detail of the crimes and also reported various details of the criminal trial.
The complainant, the father of one of the victims named in the article, said that he was extremely shocked and distressed by the article and that it had a significant impact on his wellbeing. The complainant said that the crime occurred in 2007 and that there was no current relevance or public interest in the story. He said that he was not contacted prior to publication and noted that he had however previously provided comments to the publication in an earlier story published around the time the crime was committed. The complainant also said that immediately after the article appeared a complaint was made directly to the publication on his behalf but was offered no apology or other remedial action.
In response, the publication said that the article was part of a historical series it was running on teenagers who had been convicted of murder in the Toowoomba region. It said that to the best of its knowledge the report contained no factual errors. The publication acknowledged that it did not contact the complainant even though its usual practice is to contact surviving relatives before publishing historical crime stories. The publication said it would have tried to contact the complainant had it been aware of the earlier article. The publication said it is also usual practice when reporting on historical crimes stories to label articles as such, but said that in this instance it was inadvertently left off. At a late stage of the Council’s process the publication offered to meet with the complainant.
The Council’s Standards of Practice applicable in this matter require publications to take reasonable steps to avoid causing or contributing materiality to substantial offence, distress or prejudice, or a substantial risk to health or safety, unless doing so is sufficiently in the public interest (General Principle 6).
The Council notes that the article was not labelled or presented as being part of a historical series. Given the significant lapse of time since the reported crime and the graphic details included in the article, the Council considers the article should have been clearly presented as a historical piece to give context to the story.
The Council notes the publication’s acknowledgement that it failed to adhere to its usual practice of contacting the surviving relatives of victims before publishing a historical crime story. The Council considers that publications should be vigilant in adhering to such practices in order to avoid the gravity of such mistakes and their consequences. In this respect, the publication failed to take reasonable steps to avoid causing offence, distress or prejudice, or a substantial risk to the health and safety without a justifiable public interest. Accordingly, the publication breached General Principle 6.
The Council acknowledges the publication’s apology to the complainant during the Council’s consideration of the complaint.
This Adjudication applies the following General Principle of the Council:
6. Avoid causing or contributing materiality to substantial offence, distress or prejudice, or a substantial risk to health or safety, unless doing so is sufficiently in the public interest.