The Press Council considered whether its Standards of Practice were breached by the publication of an article headed “Exclusive: Serial killer wants Medicare gender change: FIEND’S SEX OP ON YOU” (front page), “Killer's sex change farce” (page 6) in print and “Serial killer Reginald Arthurell planning sex change after jail release” online on 21 October 2020.
The article reported “A SERIAL killer due for imminent release from jail wants a taxpayer funded sex change operation infuriating the family”. The article quoted the brother of one of the murder victims saying: “It's disgusting to think this man will be out and trying to use taxpayers' money to have a sex change”. The article went on to report that the “Parole Authority said it has no power to stop Arthurell having a sex change” and that “all he will need is referral from his doctor to have most of the procedure covered by Medicare.” The article stated that relatives of one of the victims had passed on evidence to police that “Arthurell had told two inmates he has plans to kill them and police when he gets out”.
In response to a complaint, the Press Council asked the publication to comment on whether the article complied with the Council’s Standards of Practice, which require publications to take reasonable steps to 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 (General Principle 3); and 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 (General Principle 6). The Council noted that the complaint raised concerns that the prominent references to the planned ‘sex change’ suggest that gender affirming surgery is not medically necessary and that the gender treatment itself is as abhorrent as the crimes committed.
In response, the publication said the article reports the concerns of the brother of one of the murder victims. The publication said the brother expressed concern that the person remains a danger to the public and should not be released and that if released, no money should be spent on sex change surgery. The publication said that the article is not about a sex change or whether or not such surgery is necessary. The publication said the article was to give the brother of a murder victim a voice to express his concerns about a serial killer’s release and the use of taxpayer money, which it said is in the public interest.
The Council accepts that a brother of one of the murder victims expressed his strong negative views on the prospect of the person’s release and that in his view taxpayer money should not go towards gender affirming surgery. As such, the Council considers the publication took reasonable steps to ensure the presentation of factual material in the article was reasonably fair and balanced and concludes that General Principle 3 was not breached.
Nonetheless, in considering the treatment of the person’s apparent request for gender affirming surgery, the Council considers that the prominent and repeated references to ‘sex change’ and the description of it as a farce is likely to cause offence, distress and prejudice to those in the community having either undergone or seeking such surgery. The Council considers that the prominent emphasis on the gender affirming surgery diminishes the importance of such surgery by both implying that it is not warranted and questioning whether it should be covered by Medicare. The Council considered there was a public interest in the public being informed about the person’s release but that there was no public interest in diminishing the person’s request for gender affirming surgery. Accordingly, the Council concludes that the article breached General Principle 6.
Relevant Council Standards
This Adjudication applies the following General Principles of the Council:
“Publications must take reasonable steps to:
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.
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.”