The Fremantle Herald, a weekly newspaper in Western Australia, reported a “troubled” man involved in the local “drug scene” was murdered in an “execution-style” killing. And yet, the 25-year-old man, Reuben Stack, was killed during an in-home robbery and, according to his mother, had nothing to do with a “dog-fight for control of the local drug scene.”
Stack’s mother, Judith Kenny, a former deputy mayor of the town of East Fremantle, where the murder took place, complained to the Australian Press Council about the Herald‘s May 2015 article.
Of course, you can’t just take the mother’s word for it. Indeed, though Kenny pointed to the sentencing of her son’s murderer, that sentencing noted, according to the council report, that Stack “was a substantial dealer of drugs and had a thriving business, and the murder occurred during the course of a robbery of a very substantial amount of drugs from his home.” The council did note, however, that Stack was not killed “execution-style.” A December 2015 report from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported that Shannon John Davies pleaded guilty to Stack’s murder as well as “other drug and stealing offenses.”
The article in question, published a week after Stack’s death, was headlined “Brutal killing shocks leafy East Fremantle.” iMediaEthics has written to the Fremantle Herald for comment.
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The Fremantle Herald stood by its reporting, arguing it was “sympathetic” and based on many anonymous sources and the police, as well as other media outlets, the press council reported.
Furthermore, the council concluded, “The Council considers that the article was inaccurate in implying the details of the killing and that a ‘dog fight for control of the local drug scene’ was involved. The publication did not seek any balancing comments by the family or the police, which could have either supported or qualified the claims made.” The press council noted that the Herald had “sufficient time” to vet other news outlets’ claims but didn’t do so.
On the other hand, the council did say it was fair for the Herald to report that the murdered man was “troubled,” “given Mr Stack’s drug activities.” Because of the errors and the matter at hand, the council also ruled that the Herald “failed to take steps to avoid contributing materially to substantial distress for the family” that wasn’t outweighed by the public interest in reporting.