Australia’s News.com.au published an article about ISIS’s new “terror guide” which included excerpts from the terrorist group’s “step-by-step guide on how to murder nonbelievers.”
Was that offensive? After receiving a complaint, the Australian Press Council reviewed the May 31, 2017 article to determine if it broke guidelines for “substantial offence, distress or prejudice or risk to public health.”
News.com.au argued the article was in the public interest because it offered “an insight into how [ISIS] operates,” the press council reported. Further, News.com.au said its news stories about ISIS and how it works were not “to encourage terrorism or support…but rather to discourage it.”
However, News.com.au did end up unpublishing the article because after its original publication, the Australian government’s Classification Board banned the article. Australia’s federal government ruled the ISIS article was “Refused Classification” and “indirectly provided instruction on the doing of a terrorist act.”
According to a News.com.au article after the press council ruling, the Australian Attorney General’s office demanded the article be removed. News.com.au said it only removed the article because it would get “legal penalties…including fines or even civil or criminal legal action” if it didn’t. News.com.au’s story said the news outlet had tried to get more information about why the article was labeled banned, and that the site’s editor-in-chief Kate de Brito called it censorship. iMediaEthics has written to both the classification board and News.com.au.
(In response, the Classification Board issued a press release criticizing that News.com.au news story about the press council’s review and ruling; the Board explained that it found the News.com.au article was inappropriate, and thus should be banned, because it largely quoted and referred to the ISIS propaganda without adding much original content.)
While the article was unpublished by News.com.au, the New York Post, which, like News.com.au, is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., published a copy of the News.com.au article. Since the New York Post is in the U.S., the re-publication is outside of the press council’s jurisdiction, a press council spokesperson told iMediaEthics.
The press council found that the original 2017 News.com.au article was in fact in the public interest, but warned that the article could have been used to amplify ISIS’s propaganda. “The Press Council considers that the article did publish much of the source material from IS verbatim, with limited author input and accompanying analysis or context, such as comments from experts and websites such as Gumtree,” the press council explained. “The Council accepts there was no intention to encourage or support terrorism, but considers that republishing content from terrorist entities in this manner can perpetuate the purpose of such propaganda and give publicity to its ideas and practices.”
In general, the council advised news outlets apply “great care” in reporting on terrorist propaganda. And, the council said, “In particular, effectively republishing source material comprising instructional detail in how to carry out particular terrorist acts could pose a risk to public safety, and reasonable steps should be taken to prevent such an outcome.”