The Press Council considered whether its Standards of Practice were breached by a “Txt the editor” text message published in NT News on 17 May 2018 which read “I am not happy about the Eurovision winner and I would prefer another grand final solution”. The text message appeared on page 11 of the newspaper, on a page titled “Your Say – The People’s Voice in the Northern Territory” with eight other texts to the editor. The sender’s name was not included on the text message.
The Council asked the publication to comment on whether, in the context of Israel having recently won the Eurovision Song Contest and therefore having the opportunity to host the next Eurovision final, the reference to the “final solution” in the text message may be considered an offensive reference to the Holocaust and anti-Semitic. It also asked the publication to comment on whether in publishing the text message the publication took reasonable steps to avoid causing or contributing materially to substantial offence, distress or prejudice, without sufficient justification in the public interest, in breach of General Principle 6 of the Council’s Standards of Practice.
The publication said the text message was not anti-Semitic and was not a reference to the Holocaust. The publication said it is aware of the significance of the phrase, but the reference in the text message was to a “grand final solution”, not the “final solution” phrase with Holocaust connotations, and that the Eurovision Song Contest has a “Grand Final”, being the stage at which the winner is determined.
The publication said the text message merely referred to the view of the author that they thought someone else should have won and that there should be a different process to determine the winner. It also said that the Eurovision Song Contest has a history of debate surrounding the winner’s talents and merits, or lack of talent and merit, each year and that this is particularly so in the case of Australia’s entry as there is much debate about the voting rules and how they may disadvantage Australia’s contestant.
The publication explained that text messages to the editor are usually published within a day of having been received. It receives an average of approximately 30 text messages a day and selects 10-15 to be published, all of which are reviewed by the editor before publication.
The Council’s Standards of Practice relevant in this matter require the publication to take reasonable steps to avoid causing or contributing materially to substantial offence or distress, without sufficient justification in the public interest.
The Council considers that published text messages are comparable to published letters to the editor and publications should exercise editorial control over them to ensure compliance with the Council’s Standards of Practice. The Council notes that the publication reviewed the text message prior to publication.
The Council considers that as Israel was the winner of the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest, the use of the phrase “grand final solution” would be taken by many readers to be a reference to the Holocaust. The effect was to trivialise the Holocaust and imply that another holocaust may be a remedy to the author’s displeasure at Israel winning the Contest and hosting the next grand final. Whether the language used was the result of poor expression or an ill-advised attempt at humour rather than being deliberately offensive, it was likely to cause substantial offence and distress to readers.
The Council considers that the text message was not sufficiently in the public interest to justify such offence and distress. While the Eurovision Song Contest can attract great publicity and controversy and attracted significant community interest—especially given Australia’s entrant originated from the Northern Territory—the fact that the community may find a subject of interest does not mean that publication of the material is in the public interest.
Accordingly the Council concludes that in publishing the text message the publication breached General Principle 6.
Relevant Council Standards (not required for publication)
This Adjudication applies the following General Principles of the Council.
Publications must take reasonable steps to:
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.