Two Australian newspapers published a “humorous” letter about a man killing his wife after getting a text message from a neighbor suggesting an affair.
The Portland Observer and the Casteron News, sister newspapers, published the joke, which was submitted by a reader, in July 2018. A man, the joke began, sent his neighbor a text message reading “I have been helping myself to your wife day and night whenever you’re not around.” This, according to the joke, prompted the neighbor to kill his wife. The punchline, such as it is, was that the man claimed he’d made a typo in his text message. He meant to say he was helping himself to WiFi internet, not his wife.
Despite the newspapers’ insistence that the letter was intended as a joke and that they later publishing apologies, the Australian Press Council found the “joke” offensive and a violation of press guidelines.
The newspapers told the press council they received “a number of complaints” about the piece, and said a “less experienced-sub editor” was the reason for how it slipped through to publication. The newspapers also noted that they apologized, vowed not to publish submitted jokes in the future and published local responses to the piece.
“The Council considers that the material caused substantial offence and distress, as it implicitly conveys the message that, had there not been a typographical error in the text message, the action of the husband in killing his wife in a fit of jealousy was excusable and, in so doing, communicated a disregard for the serious issue of domestic violence and violence against women,” the press council ruled. “It also implicitly objectified women as sexual objects that men ‘can help themselves to’ on the one hand but not seek their views on the other.”
The press council said the apology was a good step but still ruled against the two newspapers.