The Australian Press Council has considered a complaint about a photograph in the Huon Valley News on 22 February 2012 about a local rally. Headed, "Rally in Huonville last Saturday draws large attendance", the four-page gallery included a photograph of a group of protesters, one of whom held a sign reading "Chip the Greens and Export Webber [sic]".
Adam Burling complained that the sign was offensive and an incitement to violence against his partner, Jenny Weber, who is a prominent spokesperson for the Huon Valley Environment Centre. She had received a recent death threat and there had also been threats to burn down the Centre’s building.
The newspaper responded that the photograph was only one of 47 published photographs in a gallery accurately depicting the rally. It said Ms Weber’s public position was well-known to its readership and the photograph would not incite violence or cause offence amongst the local community.
The Press Council has concluded the photograph may have caused offence to some people but that needs to be balanced against the public interest in allowing people to express views and have those views published. It noted that the sign did not propose physical violence, the photograph was only one of a very large number, and the gallery did not convey a misleading impression of the rally. Accordingly, the complaint was not upheld.
The Council noted, however, that its decision might well have been different if the sign had specifically proposed physical violence or harassment. It sought and obtained an assurance that, given local volatility on the issues involved, the newspaper would exercise special caution in selecting photographs for publication.
Relevant Council Standards
(not required to be published):
This adjudication applies the Council’s General Principle 7: “Publications have a wide discretion in publishing material, but they should balance the public interest with the sensibilities of their readers, particularly when the material, such as photographs, could reasonably be expected to cause offence".