Press Council says stories failed to meet journalism standards

The Australian Press Council has declared that a series of crime stories published at failed the meet the required journalistic standards.

In February 2021 the News Corp owned site published two stories highlighting that sadistic child killer Robin Reid was being considered for parole after serving nearly 40 years in prison.

The Press Council found the publication had not met the required standards because they highlighted that Reid’s co-accused had later transitioned gender and changed their name.

The review found that the references to the person’s gender transition were irrelevant, and the way the publication were described the person’s gender transition, potentially implying there was a link to the crime years earlier, was not warranted.

Reid and his accomplice were convicted of kidnapping two school boys, torturing both of them, and murdering 13-year-old Peter Aston. At the time of the crime Reid was serving as a corporal in the Australian Army, and his accomplice was a 17-year-old private.

An article published on 26th February 2021 referred to Reid’s accomplice in the crime as his “transgender soldier lover” who the article reported “began hormone treatment” while in prison and changed their name by deed poll.

A follow up article published the next day reported that a “detective still haunted by the case of a perverted child killer has revealed how the sadistic criminal sent him twisted ‘love’ letters from prison” and that he is “being considered for parole almost 40 years after he and his transgender soldier lover kidnapped two boys and tortured and buried alive Peter Aston, 13, before killing him in 1982.”

The article went on to report the “two men were lovers”, with his accomplice “harbouring a desire to become a woman, and Reid a Satanist and sadist with a desire to torture and kill a male as ‘sacrifice’”.

The article included a photograph of the victim with the caption “Murder victim Peter Aston was beaten, shaved, tortured and buried alive by Reid and his transgender soldier lover.”

The Press Council noted that Reid’s accomplice transitioned to a woman sometime after the crime for which they were convicted. As such, the Council considered the transgender references in the articles were irrelevant.

“The Council also notes that no information was presented to support the statement in the 27 February 2021 article that around the time of the crime, the accomplice was ‘harbouring a desire to become a woman'”. the finding stated.

Accordingly, the Council ruled that the publication failed to take reasonable steps to ensure factual material was presented with reasonable fairness and balance in breach of General Principle 3.

The principle states publications must “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.

They also found the stories had breach Principle 6 of the standards which state “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 there was a significant public interest in the public being informed about the parole hearing of Reid given the seriousness of the crime he committed. However, the Council did not consider that there was sufficient public interest in the prominent references to his accomplice’s transgender status, which was not reported to have a connection with the crime for which they were convicted.

The publication has subsequently removed the references from the articles, and delivered additional education to it’s news room staff.

Graeme Watson

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