The Weekend Australian invaded the privacy of a woman who complained about Australian politician Jamie Briggs’ behavior toward her, the Australian Press Council ruled.
In a Sept. 17 adjudication, the press council said that while the story on Briggs was in the public interest, the woman’s identity wasn’t.
The Jan. 2-3 print and online article, “The minister, the texts and the Stormies night,”reported allegations made against the then federal Minister for Cities and the Built Environment, Jamie Briggs MP, who was in Hong Kong on official business, and which led to Mr Briggs’ resignation from his Ministry.” The woman said Briggs put his arm around her, kissed her neck and made an “inappropriate” comment at a bar in Hong Kong. The Australian declined to comment to iMediaEthics on the ruling.
The Weekend Australian noted that it didn’t name the woman because it wanted “to protect her privacy.” However, the press council pointed out that the newspaper included a pixilated photo of her, her age, job position, academic background and other information which could easily identify her.
The Weekend Australian argued its article was in the public interest, pointing to the fact that the matter it reported on led to Briggs resigning, and reminded that it did attempt to protect her identity. “The publication contended that even with the details published about the woman, there was no evidence that her identity could be discovered through an Internet search,” the press council reported. “The publication indicated that the reporting of the woman’s age and that it was her first posting was meant to convey her relative inexperience, and so her greater vulnerability.”
However, the press council disagreed and argued that the newspaper still published too much information about the woman. The newspaper also did not take “sufficient reasonable steps” to protect the woman, and didn’t need to include “so much personal information” about her in order to tell its story. The press council also reminded news outlets to be more careful in reporting on people who deserve protection or anonymity and to make sure that enough information isn’t available to make it possible for the public to identify.
“The Council accepts the publication intended in good faith to protect the privacy of the woman concerned by withholding her name and pixilating her image, recognising both her own sensitive situation and the general policy not to discourage reporting inappropriate or unlawful conduct in future,” the council explained. “However, the Council considers the question is not whether there was specific evidence that the woman’s identity could be discovered through an Internet search or that any particular person in fact identified the woman as a result of the article, but whether the publication took sufficient steps to minimise the risk that she would be identified by some means.”
UPDATED: 9/17/2016 12:37 PM EST With response from the Australian