The Press Council considered whether its Standards of Practice were breached by an article published in The Daily Telegraph online headed “Retired porn star sparks Surry Hills apartment block controversy” on 11 November 2020.
The sub-headline of the article stated “A noisy retired gay porn star has been told to behave and show respect to his neighbours after police were called four times, causing angst in his apartment building”. The article went on to report that “[r]esidents at a landmark apartment block in Sydney’s gay heartland have been told to show more respect after reports a retired US porn star was sparking conflict by working from home”. The article reported that police “had been called four times this year to the same apartment” and that “[i]t is understood the calls have all involved ‘concern for welfare’” and “[o]ne involved an argument between the porn star and the boyfriend he is staying with”. The article also included an embedded video of Mardi Gras 2020 and an image of the rainbow flag flying over “Sydney’s gay community in Darlinghurst”.
In response to a complaint received, the Press Council asked the publication to comment on whether the article complied with the Council’s Standards of Practice which require publications to take reasonable steps to 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. The Council noted that the complaint raised concern that the reference to the porn star’s’ sexuality in the sub-headline was not justified by the public interest as the article established no relevance between the person’s sexuality and the noise complaints.
In response, the publication said it was merely describing the resident’s past occupation as a ‘gay porn star’. The publication said it was acceptable terminology for people in that profession as it refers to a specific genre of pornography, and is a term that many individuals in the industry use to describe themselves. It said it took this description from the resident’s own social media accounts and used this information as background to the story, as it would for any other individual’s profession. The publication said it chose to report this story in particular because it involved several calls to the police, which were not mere noise complaints, but also expressed concerns for the residents’ welfare. It noted this information was corroborated by police and therefore it was in the public interest to report.
The Council has consistently stated over a long period that publications should exercise great care to not place unwarranted emphasis on characteristics of individuals such as race, religion, nationality, country of origin, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, illness or age.
The Council notes that the resident may have described himself in social media accounts as a ‘gay porn star’. However, given the resident’s sexuality was not reported to be a contributing factor in the noise complaints, identifying him as such in the sub-headline of the article, could lead some readers to conclude that his sexuality was either the cause of, or a factor in, the complaints and could contribute to substantial prejudice to the gay community. The Council considers that in prominently referring to the resident’s sexuality in the sub-headline, the publication failed to take reasonable steps to avoid contributing to substantial prejudice and that there was not sufficient public interest justifying doing so. Accordingly, the Council concludes that the article breached General Principle 6.
This Adjudication applies the following Standards of Practice.
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.