‘Sydney Morning Herald’ says they’ve learned from Rebel Wilson experience

The Sydney Morning Herald has withdrawn an opinion piece where entertainment reporter Andrew Hornery bemoaned that actor Rebel Wilson had revealed she was in a same-sex relationship “gazumping” a story he was planning to write.

Following several days of intense criticism writer Andrew Hornery said he had made mistakes in the way he approached Wilson for comment about her sexuality and new relationship, and the newspaper withdrew a column he published that was critical of the actress for speaking about her relationship.

Wilson shared last week that she had found her “Disney Princess” and was in a relationship with fashion designer Ramona Agruma. On Saturday the newspaper’s entertainment columnist criticised Wilson for her revelation, revealing that he had emailed her and given her 48 hours to decide if he wanted to be part of a story he was planning.

The newspaper then went on to suggest that it was reasonable to expect Wilson to be forthcoming about her new same-sex relationship because she had shared previous heterosexual relationships on social media.

The writer also asserted that Wilson had probably not been exposed to homophobia in the past because she had always identified as heterosexual, and Hollywood was a welcoming place for LGBTIQA+ people.

As condemnation of the article grew, and the newspaper was accused of forcing Wilson’s hand and pushing her to be ‘outed’, the newspaper’s editor published a note telling those criticising their actions that they had got it wrong.

Editor Bevan Shields said the newspaper had not actually made a final decision on whether or not it would publish the story, accusations of ‘outing’ the actor were without substance, and the follow-up article from Hornery was not a normal news story, but rather a behind the scenes glimpse into the actions of Wilson and her PR team.

The brush-off from the newspaper’s editor kicked the criticism into overdrive with health organisations and prominent celebrities voicing their disgust at the newspaper’s approach and subsequent justifications.

Wilson herself made a brief comment on social media saying it has been a hard experience for her, but she was hoping to handle it with grace.

On Monday the newspaper backed down with Hornery publishing a new article sharing that he’d listened to the criticism and come to the conclusion that he had taken the wrong approach. Editor Bevan Shields also posted to social media saying the newspaper would learn from it’s mistakes, but stopped short of apologising for his previous comments.

Professor Paula Gerber from Monash University highlighted that the process of coming out was complex and it was disappointing that the newspaper had seen Wilson’s relationship as fair game.

“’Outing’ is the act of disclosing a person’s sexual orientation or gender diversity without their permission. It is invariably LGBTIQA+ people who are ‘outed’, since heterosexual and cisgender people don’t feel the need to come out as straight or not-trans. Outing someone can have a profound and lifelong impact on their lives.

“Much has been written about the Sydney Morning Herald’s approach to Rebel Wilson last week. For the SMH to claim that ‘We would have asked the same questions had Wilson’s new partner been a man’ demonstrates a profound lack of understanding about the discrimination and persecution that LGBTIQA+ people have faced historically, and continue to face today.” Gerber said.

The academic said the LGBTIQA+ communities were reguarly used by the media to drive traffic to their news sites.

“Using someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity to point score or get ‘clicks’ became de rigueur under the previous federal government; Remember Scott Morrison’s refusal to ban schools from expelling LGBTIQA+ students? The Religious Discrimination Bill, which would have given people of faith license to discriminate against sexual and other minorities? Katherine Deves’ attacks on trans people? And Senator Claire Chandler’s ‘Save Women’s Sport’ bill? Frankly, it was exhausting for the LGBTQIA+ community. These attacks have ceased since the election of the Albanese Government, and it’s a breath of fresh air for the LGBTIQA+ community.” Professor Gerber said.

“I hope that the media will follow suit and reconsider how they engage with the community and report on LGBTQIA+ issues. All people have a right to privacy, and that privacy includes if, when and how to disclose their sexual orientation. I encourage the media to urgently undertake training about privacy, human rights, discrimination and the long history of outing LGBTIQA+ people – and why it is so harmful. Armed with such knowledge, I would hope that they will not treat any LGBTIQA+ person with the same disrespect that we have seen recently.”

“It’s time for a new chapter, it’s time to do better. It will be a great day when the subject of someone’s sexual orientation is no longer a story.” Professor Gerber concluded.

OIP Staff

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