The Press Council considered whether its Standards of Practice were breached by an article published by The Australian Financial Review online on 9 May 2021 headed “Apollo Global MD contracts COVID-19 in Sydney”, and in print on 10 May 2021 headed “Apollo Global MD Pizzey contracts COVID-19 in Sydney”.
The article reported “Investment giant Apollo Global Management managing director” is the “Sydney person that has been diagnosed with COVID-19”. The article reported that the person, “who is one of only two full-time employees at Apollo in Australia, is still suffering COVID-19 symptoms and is suspected of catching the virus from a returned US traveller.” It also said the person “is understood to be the mystery shopper who ducked into two Sydney-based Barbeques Galore stores on Saturday, May 1, and then his local butcher, in a shopping trip that has since been documented by NSW Health as part of its contact tracing protocols. It is understood the person went to Barbeques Galore looking for a new barbecue, but also as part of his firm’s due diligence on the retailer.”
Following complaints it received, the Press Council asked the publication to comment on whether the article complied with the Council’s Standards of Practice. In particular, it asked whether the article intruded on the person’s reasonable expectations of privacy by reporting their name and personal medical information; whether the article may have caused substantial distress to the person or could discourage other members of the public from getting tested for Covid-19; and whether identifying the person in this manner was necessary or justified in the public interest.
In response, the publication said it considered the question of privacy in publishing the article. It said its reporter approached Apollo Global Management and outlined the story well before publication. The company confirmed that the managing director had tested positive to the coronavirus, provided comments and did not ask the Financial Review to refrain from identifying him. After the article appeared online on 9 May, the company contacted it and asked that it remove a photograph of the managing director, which it did. The publication said the company did not complain about the story or the naming of the managing director and did not ask for his name to be removed. The company did not express the view that the article had, or would, cause the managing director distress.
The publication also said that the named person made no complaint to it after publication. He did not ask for the story to be amended or withdrawn and there is no evidence that he was distressed or harmed by the publication.
The publication said the person is a managing director of Apollo Global Management, an international private equity firm listed on the New York Stock Exchange with more than $US460 billion of assets and he is a significant figure in Australian investment circles. Some in the market already knew that he was the person who had contracted COVID-19 while visiting multiple BBQs Galore shops. Helping to fully inform the market on this relevant point involving a potential transaction of $100 million or so is in the public interest.
It said the identification of the person has not destroyed, nor would it destroy, public confidence in the contact tracing system, testing or vaccination. There is no evidence, whatsoever, that this occurred. It also said there is no stigma in being identified as a person having COVID-19, noting various prominent people have been identified as such, and said the identification of prominent people having contracted COVID-19 is helpful in reducing any stigma and helping the public’s understanding of the spread of the virus.
The Council considers there is a public interest in reporting on the business activities of Apollo Global Management in Australia, and notes the named person is somewhat of a public figure given his position within the organisation. It also notes that such public interest does not necessarily justify identifying a person’s medical information. In this case however, the Council is satisfied the publication took reasonable steps to not intrude on the person’s reasonable expectations of privacy by contacting the company in advance of the article’s publication and by removing a photograph of the person upon request. Accordingly, the Council finds there was no breach of General Principle 5.
The Council accepts the publication’s submission that the article did not cause substantial distress to the person, noting that neither the person, nor Apollo Global Management raised such concerns after being notified of the article by the publication. The Council also notes the article was not derisive or critical of the named person and is unlikely to discourage other members of the community from getting tested for COVID-19. Accordingly, the Council finds there was no breach of General Principle 6.
Relevant Council Standards
This Adjudication applies the following General Principles of the Council:
5. Avoid intruding on a person’s reasonable expectations of privacy, unless doing so is sufficiently in the public interest.
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.