Even though the old journalism adage “if it bleeds, it leads” largely holds true, reporters still have to be sensitive as to how they describe gruesome scenes of violence.
Case in point: The Northern Star, a Brisbane-area newspaper, wrongly reported details of how a murdered woman was found, upsetting her family and breaking the Australian Press Council’s standards.
The article in question, which appeared in the Northern Star on Aug. 18, 2016, graphically described information about the death of the woman, Sabrina Bremer. The lurid descriptions began with the headline itself: “The mysterious and ‘horrible’ death of Sabrina Bremer.’
Bremer’s cousin complained that “the article was gratuitous and deprived the deceased of dignity and respect,” according to the press council.
Not only was it upsetting, the article was inaccurate and based on speculation from two people who live near where the woman was found. After the claims were published, a police press conference confirmed the speculation was wrong, but the story’s false claims remained.
The article is still published on the Northern Star‘s website, but it now carries a note about the press council’s ruling. The press council ruled the Northern Star “failed to take reasonable steps to ensure the article was accurate and not misleading.” Further, the Star didn’t justify the “substantial distress” the article caused or properly and promptly correct the error.
After Bremer’s family complained, the Northern Star finally deleted the inaccurate claims and apologized to Bremer’s family. The press council reported that the Star said it also “counselled” its reporter. iMediaEthics has written to the Star to ask what that counseling entailed and if the newspaper published a correction in addition to the press council ruling to address the error.
The Northern Star is owned by News Corp. Australia and about 125 miles south of Brisbane.