A controversial story about an alleged gang rape written by former Sydney Morning Herald columnist Paul Sheehan has been found to be in breach of the Australian Press Council’s fundamental standards of journalistic practice.
The council handed down its ruling on article, headed in print “The horrifying untold story of Louise”, which reported the alleged rape of a nurse by a number of Arabic-speaking men and stated the NSW police took no action when the woman reported the incident.
The article was published on February 22 but questions were soon raised about its veracity and Fairfax Media subsequently apologised and stood down Mr Sheehan.
The council’s ruling took into account that The Sydney Morning Herald “expressed its regret” and acknowledged the publication of the article “represented unacceptable breaches of fundamental journalistic practice”.
However the APC concluded:
“The article concerned serious and distressing allegations that would likely cause substantial offence, distress and/or prejudice to the Middle Eastern community in Australia, the NSW Police, victims of sexual assault and the wider community. Accordingly, it was necessary to be especially rigorous in determining the veracity of the claims made by Louise… ”
“All of (Louise’s) claims would have been readily dismissed with some further interviews and basic fact-checking, but this was not done.”
The APC found The Sydney Morning Herald took reasonable remedial action following the publication of the article.
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