The Parramatta Advertiser, a weekly newspaper in suburban Sydney owned by News Corp. Australia, published an invasive article about a man’s death by suicide without any public interest, the Australian Press Council ruled.
The article reported on the death of 62-year-old Dermot Lyons, based on an interview with his sister, Anne Marie Lyons. She said, “I knew he would have killed himself” after he went missing before his death. Lyons told the Parramatta Advertiser about her brother’s mental health and personal life, and even claimed she kept him from dying a few years earlier.
The Advertiser‘s Sept. 14 article by Kylie Adoranti was headlined, “Never let despair win.” It does not appear to be on the Advertiser’s website anymore. iMediaEthics has written to News Corp. Australia to ask if the ruling will affect how suicide is covered at the Advertiser or News Corp. Australia.
Sharon Doyle Lyons, Lyons’ “estranged wife,” complained to the Australian Press Council over the article, noting the newspaper didn’t contact their sons or her before publication, which she viewed as necessary given they are closer family members than the sister and one of the sons is a minor.
iMediaEthics was unable to find any social media profile or contact information for Sharon Doyle Lyons, but has sent a message to her older son via Facebook seeking comment.
Sharon Doyle Lyons noted that she complained to the Advertiser after the story was published. The newspaper claimed it asked her elder son for permission to run the story over Facebook message, which, in fact, it hadn’t. (The newspaper did ask about interviewing him via Facebook message but not about the story.)
Lyons’ wife also complained because her husband didn’t share details about his mental health with other people and it was unnecessary to describe how he died.
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The Advertiser argued it was OK to publish the story since it was sensitively reported, didn’t include names of Lyons’ estranged wife or two sons, and was published after the sister, who had filed the missing persons report, proposed the article.
The newspaper further defended its article by claiming Lyons’ sister was closer to him than his estranged wife, and alleged the article was accurate and in the public interest.
While the press council noted that “the article was well-intentioned” and the sister gave “informed consent,” it was inappropriate for the newspaper to not contact the man’s two sons and estranged wife, the legal guardian of the younger, minor-aged son.
Without that consent, the newspaper could have left the man’s name and photo out to avoid any invasion of privacy. “Given the article used the man’s name and photograph, reported the regions where he lived and was found, and dealt with his possible reasons for suicide, the effects on his family and what the sister claims might have happened had she not assisted him, the Council considers that it was not sufficient to have consent only from the man’s sister,” the council ruled.
Furthermore, the details in the article weren’t in the public interest, the council stated.