News.com.au published graphic photos of a two-car accident that killed a woman just after it happened. Doing so was an invasion of privacy and distressing to readers, the Australian Press Council ruled.
Why? Because the people in the accident had “a reasonable expectation of privacy.” Further, the council noted that friends and family of the victims may have seen the pictures and been able to identify the injured. As such, News.com.au, which is owned by News Corp. Australia, must publish the press council ruling on its website.
“Considering the nature of the image, in which a person is shown amongst the wreckage of a car accident with the caption referring to the ‘[f]atal crash’, and the rapid timing of its publication, the Council also concludes that the publication did not take reasonable steps to ensure the material avoided causing or contributing materially to substantial distress,” the council explained.
Instead of publishing the graphic photos of the accident, the council suggested News.com.au could have published a “long shot of the scene of the accident,” which wouldn’t make it possible to identify those involved.
News.com.au argued the photos were fair game because it was in the public interest to report on “a major public event causing significant disruption.” However, the council clearly disagreed. News.com.au also noted that it removed the photo about an hour after publication because it received one complaint. “It said it is regular and longstanding journalistic practice to publish images of road accidents, which are often graphic, and similar images were published on other major media in this instance, including websites and television,” the council added.
iMediaEthics has contacted News.com.au to ask if it will consider adjusting its photo standards for future car accident reports in light of the ruling.