The Press Council considered a complaint from the Queensland Government on behalf of Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk about an article published in the Sunshine Coast Daily on 20 May 2019, headed “ANNA, YOU’RE NEXT: Labor rout puts Premier in crosshairs. Full election coverage from page 2" in print and “Anna, you're next: State LNP buoyed by Labor rout” online.
The front page included prominent target ‘crosshairs’ superimposed on an image of the Queensland Premier’s face next to the headline “ANNA, YOU’RE NEXT” and the sub-headline “Labor rout puts Premier in crosshairs”. A page 3 article was headed “LNP eyeing off state after federal romp” and the online article reported “SCOTT Morrison's demolition of the Labor Party in Queensland has sent spirits soaring in State LNP MPs, with a target now firmly fixed on Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.” The article went on to report a State Shadow minister as saying that the election win “sent a message to Ms Palaszczuk that ‘doing nothing isn’t going to cut it for six years’”.
The complainant said the front-page image of a crosshair superimposed on a photograph of the Premier’s face has the potential to incite violence against the Premier and may possibly encourage people to commit violence. The complainant said the Premier felt that her safety had been compromised as a result of the crosshairs being placed on her photograph and said it was inappropriate for any publication to ever publish an image of any person with crosshairs superimposed on it. The complainant requested that the publication remove the image and publish an apology to the Premier and its readers in a prominent position and to explain it does not condone violence against politicians.
The complainant said its initial requests were declined as the publication initially defended the image and it required repeated requests on its part to have the image removed from the publication’s digital platforms. The complainant said the Premier was satisfied with the apology that was ultimately published but noted that there was significant delay in the publication removing the image from the publication’s digital platforms, and to the extent it had not already been removed, asked that it be immediately removed.
In response, the publication said it was never the intention of the newspaper to incite violence against the Premier nor encourage people to commit a violent act. It said the intention of the front page was merely to note that the Queensland Labor Government was the next political target of the conservative parties after Labor's poor performance in Queensland in the federal election and that the Premier was now in the political “sights” of the Liberal National Party.
The publication said it published a front-page apology which stated it does not condone any sort of violence against women or politicians. The publication said in publishing the front page apology it apologised directly to Premier Palaszczuk and its readers acknowledging it had made a mistake and that it was wrong. The publication said the apology also acknowledged that it could have conveyed the message it had intended to in a different way. The publication also said it published letters to the editor critical of its front page and that it had removed the image from its digital platforms.
The Council’s Standards of Practice require that publications take reasonable steps to avoid causing or contributing materially to substantial offence, distress or prejudice, or to a substantial risk to health or safety (General Principle 6), unless doing so is sufficiently in the public interest.
The Council acknowledges the publication’s comments that it did not intend to incite violence against Premier Palaszczuk and was instead suggesting that the State Labor Party was a political target. However, by superimposing an image of crosshairs on a photograph of the Premier’s face next to the headlines “ANNA YOU’RE NEXT” and “Labor rout puts Premier in crosshairs”, the article went beyond political comment and showed the premier being the subject of potential significant violence. This could have been taken by some readers as condoning violence against the Premier or had the potential to trigger violence against the Premier. In this respect, the publication failed to take reasonable steps to avoid causing offence, distress or prejudice, or a substantial risk to the health and safety without a justifiable public interest. Accordingly, the publication breached General Principle 6.
The Council considers it was deeply regrettable that the publication made the original decision to publish the image, initially refused to apologise and delayed in removing the image page from its digital platforms. However the Council welcomes the prominent apology by the publication and its subsequent action in addressing the complaint.
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.