The Press Council has considered a complaint from Frances Harrison about an article published in the Cairns Post on Monday 26 November 2018 headed “Health boss has job loss windfall” in print and “Cairns Hospital HR manager’s six-figure payout after seven months on the job” online.
The article reported that the complainant “received a payment of $106,000 upon her resignation” in March. The article also stated that sources “claimed bullying complaints within the service increased during this period” immediately above an image of the complainant. The article went on to report that the Health Service Chief Executive “declined to say why Ms Harrison had resigned from her position” and that the People and Engagement Executive Director “declined to comment directly about allegations of bullying during Ms Harrison’s tenure”.
The Press Council has considered whether its Standards of Practice were breached by an article in The Courier-Mail on 26 May 2019 headed “Greg Inglis’ lost weekend in Brisbane mansion for Magic Round” online and “The weekend Greg forgot” in print.
The article reported on events concerning a former football player’s trip to Brisbane to attend the NRL’s Magic Round event in May 2019. It reported that he spent the weekend “in a Brisbane riverside mansion with friends” and a named “reality TV star”, whilst his “frantic family”, “girlfriend” and football club “officials tried to find him”. The article includes a photograph of the outside of the private residence.
The article further reported the observations of a “witness staying in” the residence, stating: “It seemed to me like he [the man] wanted to escape from the world for a few days and get away from whatever pressures he was feeling”, “He was drinking beer and sort of drifting in and out of consciousness” and “I tried to talk to him a couple of times and finally convinced him to have a shower and gave him some (fresh) clothes”. The article also reported on the contents of communication apparently sent by members of the man’s family and the man’s friends to the “witness”.
The Press Council has considered whether its Standards of Practice were breached by the publication of an article headed “KEY WORD: ‘ATTEMPTS’” by The Daily Telegraph on 31 May 2019 online. The article commented on the reported reaction of offshore asylum seekers to Federal election outcome saying the “election result hasn’t gone down well with our off-shore country-shopper community, currently participating in a wave of plainly inept suicide attempts”.
The article included copies of tweets by media and individuals reporting on the events. The article said “Meanwhile, place your bets on the final number. Can they crack the half-century? Or even make it all the way to three figures? Go for it, boaties.” It concluded “(Note: under official Attention-Seeking Refugee rules, multiple attempts by an individual score only a single point.)”
The Council noted the publication’s comments that the columnist was making reference to ‘self-harm’ attempts by asylum seekers rather that suicide attempts and that he was using satire to express his view. However, the Council considered that the article’s comments concerning “plainly inept suicide attempts”, the inclusion of the tweets referencing suicide attempts as well as the headline itself, would lead readers to conclude that the article was commenting on attempted suicides.
The Press Council has considered a complaint from Cr Philip Penfold about an article published in the Maitland Mercury on 19 June 2019, headed “The weighting game” on the front page and continuing on page five, headed “Gym approval on hold over parking: Owner in tears at council’s change of heart” in print.
The article reported that a gym owner who considered that local council approval for her plans to establish an all-female gym would be a formality, was “reduced to tears” when “her application was surprisingly voted down due to concerns over parking” and that “what floored her the most was Cr Penfold’s change of heart”. The article reported “Cr Philip Penfold, who originally posted on social media his support for the proposal, changed his position” and went on to report that “Cr Penfold’s change of motion surprised other councillors too.”
The Council noted that, apart from the publication stating that it had been told by those associated with the proposed gym that Cr Penfold had publicly endorsed it, the publication provided no evidence that this had in fact occurred. Accordingly, taking into particular account the unequivocal manner in which it stated that the complainant publicly endorsed the gym, the Council concluded that the publication failed to take reasonable steps to ensure its reporting was accurate and not misleading in breach of General Principle 1.
The Press Council has 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 Council noted 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 considered the article should have been clearly presented as a historical piece to give context to the story.
The Press Council has considered whether its Standards of Practice were breached by the publication of a cartoon by Warren Brown in The Daily Telegraph on 11 February 2019. The edition in which it appeared also had both a main story and an editorial on the Medivac debate.
The cartoon depicted two figures running in a loop around the static figure of Kerryn Phelps, then the Member for the Federal seat of Wentworth. The figure at the front is a bearded man with a head covering, long tunic and sandals, chasing a female doctor or nurse wearing scrubs trailing a stethoscope and with a mobile phone and medicines being thrown up in the air as she appears to run away. Ms Phelps is holding a piece of paper with the words “MEDIVAC” written on it. Behind the scene, the word “Nauru” appears and above the scene is a speech bubble with the words “Do you mind not doing that until I’ve got the bill passed?”.
The cartoon appeared above an article by an opinion writer headed “Doctoring the system” with the subheading: “A Labor-backed plan would allow activists to effectively end offshore processing”.
The Press Council has considered whether its Standards of Practice were breached by a front-page headline published in print by Woman’s Day on 27 May 2019 “PALACE CONFIRMS THE MARRIAGE IS OVER! WHY HARRY WAS LEFT WITH NO CHOICE BUT TO END IT”, leading on to an article on page 12 headed “THIS IS THE FINAL STRAW! Bombshell revelations about Meghan push a distraught Harry to breaking point”.
The Council acknowledged that celebrity and gossip magazines are purchased for light entertainment, with readers not necessarily assuming that everything presented is factual. Accordingly, some latitude was given for factual exaggeration and inaccuracies in publications of this kind and whether statements are really “factual material” for the purposes of applying General Principle 1 and 3. The Council also acknowledged that the reasonable steps required to be accurate and not misleading in an article concerning royalty or celebrities can, depending on the circumstances, be different to those required in respect of other persons, particularly those who are not usually in the public eye.
The Press Council has considered a complaint from Isaac Golden, the National Secretary and Victorian State President of the Health Australia Party about two articles published in The Age in November 2018. The articles were: “Micro-parties set to win big in Victorian election after vote swap” on 12 November 2018 in print and online and “Socialists, anti-vaxxers, taxi owners: your guide to the microparties” on 22 November 2018 online.
The first article described the Health Australia Party (the party) as “the anti-vaccination Health Australia” party in the body of the article. The second article referred to the party as “anti-vaxxers” in the headline and said the “party formerly known as the Natural Medicine Party claims it is not anti-vaxxer but opposes ‘no jab, no play’ laws aimed at increasing vaccination rates.”
The Press Council considered a complaint about an article headed "Tears and prayers for a murdered father: Vietnamese lawyer Ho Ledinh is farewelled in a traditional Buddhist funeral service - as mystery gunman remains on the loose after daylight Sydney cafe shooting", published on the Daily Mail website on 31 January 2018. The article reported on the funeral service for the late Mr Ledinh and included eight photographs of mourners at the funeral.
The complainant, Mr Ledinh’s daughter, said media photographers including from the publication entered her father’s funeral service and took pictures without the family’s permission. She said the photographers roamed the room taking photographs but as she and her family were praying they could not break from the ceremony to require that they leave. The complainant said only family and friends had been permitted to take photographs for the benefit of family members who were unable to attend. She said that after the ceremony she and other family members asked the photographers to leave and to delete the pictures and recordings made.
The complainant said the media attendance was intrusive and did not stay a respectful distance from mourners. It made a farce of the ceremony, an insensitive public spectacle of the family’s grief and her father's death, and distracted them from their grieving. In publishing the images, the publication made them available to third parties who uploaded them as a video onto YouTube, thereby adding to the family’s distress. The complainant said that by publishing the names of family members the publication breached their privacy and drew attention to them as possible targets of the killer, as well as generating public speculation.
The Press Council has considered a complaint from Mariam Veiszadeh about an article published on 14 November 2018 by The Herald Sun headed in print “These facts can’t be ignored” and online “We need to acknowledge the facts about the Bourke Street attack”. The article appeared in print under the heading “Opinion” with a photograph of the author and online under a tab “OPINION”.
It stated that “During the 2014 Lindt Siege in Sydney, Mariam Veiszadeh published this solitary sentence: ‘We urge you to keep reporting any incidents of anti-Muslim sentiments via our website‘. It’s time-stamped 2.17pm. The siege was only six hours old, Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson would die 12 excruciating hours later and as Australians held their collective breaths desperate for a peaceful resolution, ‘Say no to Islamophobia‘ was Mariam Veiszadeh’s headline. That’s a fact. I do not doubt her good intentions, but as a champion of social cohesion … how ironic”.
The Council considered that the article contained some expressions of the author’s opinion. However, the statement in the article that “During the 2014 Lindt Siege in Sydney, Mariam Veiszadeh published this solitary sentence: “We urge you to keep reporting any incidents of anti-Muslim sentiments via our website” was a statement of fact that implied that the complainant had published only this one sentence during the siege. Moreover, it implied that her only concern was anti-Muslim sentiment and not the welfare of the hostages caught up in the siege. In light of the series of tweets made by the complainant during the siege, the Council concluded that in making the statement referring to the “solitary sentence”, the publication breached General Principle 1.
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 Press Council has considered whether its Standards of Practice were breached by an article published in The Australian on 10 November 2018, headed “Violent Islam Strikes Bourke Street” on the front page and continuing on page six, headed “Violent Islam hits at heart of Bourke St”. The article was also published online headed “Violent Islam terror attack strikes Melbourne’s Bourke St.”
The article reported that a “terrorist who drove a burning ute into the heart of Melbourne’s Bourke Street yesterday and stabbed three people, killing one, had links to Islamic terrorist, was a person of interest to Victoria Police and was known to federal intelligence agencies”.
The Council acknowledged that the headline can be read in a way that does not attribute responsibility for the attack to the religion of Islam as a whole and that the contents of the article report specifically about the individual who perpetrated the attack. However, readers could also infer from the headline that “violent” is being used a descriptor for Islam generally and as such, the headline may give an impression that the religion of Islam as a whole is responsible for the Bourke Street attack.
The Press Council considered whether its Standards of Practice were breached by an article published online by news.com.au titled “‘Freak of Nature’: The child killer the world has forgotten” on 27 February 2018.
The article reported on Robert Thompson who, along with Jon Venables, was convicted of murdering two-year-old James Bulger in a high profile case in the United Kingdom in 1993, when both Robert Thompson and John Venables were ten years old. The article reported on several details of Thompson’s life including his role in James Bulger’s murder, his incarceration, and his life after being released on licence at the age of eighteen.
The article contained the subheading “WHEN DID HE COME OUT AS GAY?” and reported that “In 2006, reports claimed Robert Thompson was in a stable gay relationship…”. It also stated “It is believed Thompson remains in a long-term relationship with a man who knows his real identity.”
The Press Council has considered a complaint from the Queensland Government on behalf of Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk about an article published in the Sunshine Coast Daily on 20 May 2019, headed “ANNA, YOU’RE NEXT: Labor rout puts Premier in crosshairs. Full election coverage from page 2" in print and “Anna, you're next: State LNP buoyed by Labor rout” online.
The front page included prominent target ‘crosshairs’ superimposed on an image of the Queensland Premier’s face next to the headline “ANNA, YOU’RE NEXT” and the sub-headline “Labor rout puts Premier in crosshairs”. A page 3 article was headed “LNP eyeing off state after federal romp” and the online article reported “SCOTT Morrison's demolition of the Labor Party in Queensland has sent spirits soaring in State LNP MPs, with a target now firmly fixed on Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.” The article went on to report a State Shadow minister as saying that the election win “sent a message to Ms Palaszczuk that ‘doing nothing isn’t going to cut it for six years’”.
The Council acknowledged the publication’s comments that it did not intend to incite violence against Premier Palaszczuk and was instead suggesting that the State Labor Party was a political target. However, by superimposing an image of crosshairs on a photograph of the Premier’s face next to the headlines “ANNA YOU’RE NEXT” and “Labor rout puts Premier in crosshairs”, the article went beyond political comment and showed the premier being the subject of potential significant violence. This could have been taken by some readers as condoning violence against the Premier or had the potential to trigger violence against the Premier. 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 Press Council considered a complaint from Gary Ebeyan about an article published in The Age online via the Domain section on 6 December 2018, headed “Toorak mansion to sell for $52 million, in Victoria’s second-most expensive sale”.
The article reported that the property at 53-55 Irving Road was “set to change hands” for a record $52 million, the second-highest price ever paid for a property in Victoria. It stated that multiple industry sources confirmed the deal. The article referenced the names of the owners, provided details regarding the past transfer of the property and included a photo of the property above the headline.
The complainant, one of the owners of the property, said the article inaccurately reported that the property was being sold for $52 million. The complainant said there was no sale or transfer, they had not been in any negotiations for its sale, and that they do not intend to sell the property. The complainant also said it took the publication around six days to remove the article, despite repeatedly informing it that the article was wrong. The complainant also noted that information about the property has remained accessible because other articles based on the Domain story have been published online.