The Press Council has considered whether its Standards of Practice were breached by the publication of articles in The Courier Mail on 7 October 2014 reporting on the murder and mutilation of Mayang Prasetyo by her partner Marcus Volke and his subsequent suicide. The material consisted of a front page article with the headline “Monster Chef and the She Male” together with a large photo of the victim, Mayang Prasetyo, wearing a bikini. On pages four and five were further articles with the headline “Ladyboy and the butcher” which included additional photos of the victim from an “escort website” and a photo of the victim in a white swimsuit. The articles contained references in the opening paragraph and elsewhere, to the victim’s sex work activities and also quoted from her advertisements for sex work.
The Council asked the publication to comment on whether the material breached its Standards of Practice requiring that reasonable steps be taken to “avoid causing substantial offence, distress or prejudice, or a substantial risk to health or safety, unless doing so is sufficiently in the public interest”. The Council also asked the publication whether it took reasonable steps to ensure fairness and balance in its treatment of the murder and mutilation victim, Mayang Prasetyo, and whether subsequent actions by the publication had provided a reasonable opportunity to address any possible breach.
The publication said that this murder suicide was one of the more gruesome crimes in the state’s history and of significant public interest. It said the police had examined details of the victim and her partner’s background, including their sex work, as part of the investigation into the murder and as such, these were legitimate matters to report.
The publication said the victim had identified herself as “transgender” and a “ladyboy” and promoted herself as a “top class Asian she male”. It said “ladyboy” was a term applied regularly to transsexuals in Asia. The publication said one of Ms Prasetyo’s Indonesian friends among those quoted in the article, had referred to her as a “ladyboy”.
The publication said the pictures used were taken from Ms Prasetyo’s own public Facebook page, and the publication noted these were images she had used to promote herself and it said she had told friends she was “proud” of them.
However, the publication said it accepted that the terms used had evidently caused offence and in responding to complaints it had taken several steps to address the concerns of readers. It said it had published a prominent editorial the following day headed “Victim’s memory should be valued”, saying that it had “no intention of diminishing the value of Mayang’s life”. The publication also said in the two weeks following publication of the articles, it published a number of letters and articles critical of the publication including a lengthy comment piece from the Transgender Support Association of Queensland. In a second prominent editorial on October 25, the publication said its coverage was confronting and evoked a range of responses, but “intentional offence” was not its purpose and it said sorry to those it unintentionally offended. It had adopted the ‘how to’ guide published by the Poynter Institute, “Nine ways journalists can do justice to transgender people's stories”, and had implemented training and counselling of its relevant editorial staff to emphasise the need for a more sensitive approach to reporting such issues, and to reduce the likelihood of offence in any future reporting.
The Council considers that the prominent treatment given to the victim’s gender, and the repetitive detail of her sex work, was gratuitous and contributed to the substantial offence caused by the terminology used to describe the murder victim. This was not sufficiently warranted in the public interest. For the same reasons, Ms Prasetyo’s death was presented in a manner that was not reasonably fair and balanced. Accordingly, the Council finds a breach of its Standards in relation to General Principles 3 and 6.
The Council notes the steps taken by the publication to address the complaints and commends it for its work to ensure such issues are covered sensitively in future. Accordingly, in this aspect of the complaint, the Council finds no breach of General Principle 4.
Relevant Council Standards (not required for publication):
This adjudication applies the following Standard of Practice of the Council:
3. “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.”
4. “Ensure that where material refers adversely to a person, a fair opportunity is given for subsequent publication of a reply if that is reasonably necessary to address a possible breach of General Principle 3.”
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.”