The Press Council considered whether its Standards of Practice were breached by the publication of an online article in The Age on 6 January 2016, headed “Man drowns himself using murdered wife’s head: police". The article reported on an account by authorities of an apparent murder-suicide that had taken place in Austria.
The Council asked the publication to comment on whether the material breached its Standards of Practice in regard to General Principal 6, which requires that reasonable steps be taken to “[a]void causing or contributing materially to substantial offence, distress or prejudice, or a substantial risk to health or safety, unless doing so is sufficiently in the public interest”.
The publication was also asked to comment on the Coverage of Suicide Standards 3 and 5, which require that reasonable steps be taken to ensure that reporting the death as suicide is in the public interest, or clear and informed consent has been provided by appropriate relatives or close friends; and the method and location of the suicide is not described in detail, unless the public interest in doing so clearly outweighs the risk, if any, of causing further suicides.
The publication said the article was a standard newswire report of a murder-suicide in Austria. It said the report had been compiled from information supplied by local police in Austria and it was reasonable to assume that the authorities would have obtained any necessary consent. It said the unusual manner of the murder-suicide had made the incident newsworthy, and the level of detail was necessary to explain what had taken place.
The publication said the elements of murder and suicide, together with the European location meant the issues of method and location were not directly relevant to an Australian audience, and so did not breach the Coverage of Suicide Standards. The publication also noted that the article did provide the contact numbers for relevant sources of assistance.
The Council notes that while publications must comply with Council Standards, including Standards on the Coverage of Suicide, the nature and circumstances of the material and the relevance to local audiences is a matter to be taken into account in the application of these Standards.
In Council’s view, the unusual nature of the crime gave weight to the public interest in the article’s contents. A warning to readers may have warranted consideration, however the Council recognises this is not necessary in all cases. In the circumstances, the Council concludes that the article was not so substantially offensive as to breach General Principle 6 of the Council’s Standards.
The Council accepts there was no breach of the Council’s Coverage of Suicide Standards 3 or 5 as the article focused on the unusual nature of this particular apparent murder-suicide, the information had been provided by the authorities and the events described and location were outside Australia.
Relevant Council Standards (not required for publication):
This adjudication applies the following General Principles of the Council.
“Publications must take reasonable steps to
6: “Avoid causing or contributing materially to substantial offence, distress or prejudice, or a substantial risk to health or safety, unless doing so is sufficiently in the public interest.”
Coverage of Suicide Standards:
3: “In deciding whether to report an individual instance of suicide, consideration should be given to whether at least one of the following criteria is satisfied: (a) clear and informed consent* has been provided by appropriate relatives or close friends*; or (b) reporting the death as suicide is clearly in the public interest.
5: “The method and location of a suicide should not be described in detail (e.g., a particular drug or cliff) unless the public interest in doing so clearly outweighs the risk, if any, of causing further suicides. This applies especially to methods or locations which may not be well known by people contemplating suicide.”