The Press Council considered whether its Standards of Practice were breached by the publication of an online article in NT News on 12 May 2015. The article was headlined “Overly keen motorist roots car's exhaust pipe" and a homepage item linking to the article was headlined “Keen motorist exhausted after root”. The article contained an embedded video featuring a clothed man kneeling behind a car apparently engaged in a sex act with the car’s exhaust pipe. The accompanying article referred to a man who had “made love to more than 700 vehicles”. It noted that such attraction was “known as mechanophilia and is a criminal offence in some countries”. A video link in the article was labelled “I have sex with cars” and was captioned “Edward Smith explains how he first became sexually attracted to cars and later got involved with them”.
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 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 publication was also asked to comment on the inclusion of a 29 second embedded video of the man apparently engaged in sexual intercourse with a car, what measures the publication employs when deciding what content is posted and whether any restrictions or warnings are applied to material.
The publication said it was recognised for its unique style and the “wit and vigour it brings to telling, at times, ribald stories”. It said that it had no written policy in relation to posting content on its website, but relied on a “forum” of senior editors when deciding whether to publish potentially contentious material. It said in some situations it may pixelate images, in particular those involving nudity, or it may apply a viewer warning on digital material containing violent images. However, the publication said in this case the story did not contain any nudity or violence. It said the article was presented very much in the style the NT News is known for and was intended to be a “quirky” and “offbeat” report. It said the article examined an unusual condition in a humorous manner, which ensured that it was not substantially offensive. The publication noted the report highlighted what it said was a genuine medical condition and also advised readers the practice “is a criminal offence in some countries”.
The publication said it had regard for the concerns raised by the complaint and in response, had subsequently removed the video and article from its website.
The Council notes that while publications must comply with Council’s Standards of Practice, including General Principle 6, the style and readership of a publication is to be taken into account when applying these Standards.
The Council accepts NT News has a distinctive style, notes it has processes for considering whether and how to publish potentially contentious material, and also notes the publication’s action to remove the material in response to the complaint.
The Council considers the level of offence must be assessed in the overall context of the publication, its style and its readership. In the circumstances, the Council considers that the article was not substantially offensive and so did not breach the Council’s Standards in relation to General Principle 6.
Relevant Council Standards (not required for publication):
This Adjudication applies the following Standard of Practice of the Council:
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.”