The Press Council considered whether its Standards of Practice were breached by an article published in The Daily Telegraph in print on 14 May 2021 headed “FATHER OF TWO DISMEMBERED IN DRUG DEAL: You can kiss your penis ‘goodbye’”. The article reported on the murder of Sydney father Goran Stevanovic and the sentencing of killer Khanh Xuan Pham. A large photograph of Pham blowing a kiss accompanied the article and was captioned “Penis-lopper Khanh Xuan Pham.”
The article reported “A drug-addict who cut off a father-of-two’s penis and dismembered his corpse after brutally stabbing him to death in a western Sydney unit has been sentenced to at least 22 years in jail.” It also reported “The court heard that because the victim’s body had been mutilated, his family, due to their religious beliefs, were unable to perform funeral rites or see him before he was buried.”
In response to a complaint received, the Council asked the publication to comment on whether the headline in particular complied with the Council’s Standards of Practice which require publications to ensure that factual material is presented with reasonable fairness and balance (General Principle 3); and to avoid causing or contributing materially to substantial offence, distress or prejudice, or a substantial risk to health or safety, without sufficient justification in the public interest (General Principle 6).
The Council notes the article is based upon a report of court proceedings concerning a violent drug-related crime. The Council accepts that the headline and the caption are a reasonable reflection of the reported events. Accordingly, the Council considers the article did not breach General Principle 3.
The Council accepts that some readers may have found the specific factual description of the victim’s dismemberment distressing. The Council notes that beyond the strict requirements of the law, publications have a further responsibility to ensure compliance with the Standards of Practice, which may extend to moderating or not reporting particular information that has been presented in open court. However, in this instance, the Council considers that there is sufficient public interest to report the graphic details of a serious drug-related crime as the article reported that victim’s family had been unable to bury him in accordance with their religious beliefs due to his dismemberment. This brutal aspect of the crime was also reported to be a relevant factor in sentencing. Accordingly, the Council considers the article did not breach General Principle 6.
Relevant Council Standards
This adjudication applies the following General Principles of the Council.
Publications must take reasonable steps to:
- Ensure that factual material is presented with reasonable fairness and balance, and that writers’ expressions of opinion are not based on significantly inaccurate factual material or omission of key facts.
- 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.