Daily Telegraph censured over Philip Seymour Hoffman headline ‘Kids grieve for junkie actor dad’ headline

Tele Hoffman junkieThe Australian Press Council (APC) has ruled News Corp tabloid The Daily Telegraph broke its standards of practice by running the headline “Kids grieve for junkie dad” on a story about the death of Hollywood actor Philip Seymour Hoffman in February.

The APC rejected the Telegraph’s argument that the word “junkie” was not a pejorative term, but one which is used to describe someone addicted to hard drugs more generally,  finding the headline which was published in the hours after the discovery of Seymour Hoffman’s death from an apparent drug overdose and was accompanied by a photograph of the actor with his three young children and an inset of the street outside the family’s apartment, was a serious breach of its Standards of Practice.

Telegraph Deputy managing editor Tony Thomas told Mumbrella the article had been posted early in the morning and “changed within the hour” after a review to  ‘Seymour Hoffman battled heroin in rehab’.

The headline and image, also included the standfirst “Philip Seymour Hoffman always kept his children out of the spotlight, but Cooper, Willa and Tallulah, pictured last April, will be struggling to understand how he died in the bathroom of his New York apartment, inset, with a hypodermic needle still in his arm” attracted media and social media comment before it was removed.

In the ruling published today on the Telegraph’s website the APC found that while the quick removal offending headline was positive, the image had already been circulated widely online.

“The removal of the offending aspects of the material from the publication’s website within an hour was welcome,” the Council wrote. “But they had already been read by many people and circulated on the internet by other means, and were further circulated in unamended form thereafter.

“As the publication acknowledged, this wider circulation and permanent presence on the internet was inevitable. The full extent of this dissemination may have been largely beyond its control but, of course, no such problem would have arisen if it had not posted the offending aspects in the first instance.”

It also reminded publishers to be cautious of what they publish online and the need to vet material before publication rather than correcting afterwards.

“The Council emphasises that compliance with its standards must be ensured before a publication posts material, rather than relying on being able to make changes thereafter. A publication must take account not only of the material being read before any change is made but also of whether the unamended material is likely to remain accessible from other internet sources,” it wrote in the adjudication.

Tele Hoffman junkieWhen asked to comment on the headline by the APC the newspaper defended its use of the “junkie” and said it did not consider the article to be a breach of the Council’s Standards but had nevertheless responded to complaints from readers on the morning of publication and had removed the headline within approximately 30 minutes to one hour.

According to the APC ruling the Telegraph acknowledged that: “The word ‘junkie’ did cause offence to some readers but said it was accurate because it simply means an addict to heroin or other hard drugs, which Mr Hoffman had been in an earlier period of his life and had returned to being in the year before his death.

“It said the majority of its readers would not have been offended and that use of the term was consistent with its long-standing campaign on drug issues. In any event, it said, use of the term and the focus on his children was appropriate because he was due to pick them up but instead decided to inject heroin and also because they would have felt let down by his actions.”

The APC disagreed and found the word “junkie” is widely regarded as a broader and more pejorative term than a neutral description of someone who is addicted to heroin or other illegal drugs.

The Council concluded that the combined impact of the references to the children and their alleged feelings, the photograph of them, and the use of the term “junkie” was highly unfair and offensive, especially as the material was published only a few hours after Mr Hoffman’s death.

According to the ruling: “It was entirely justifiable in the public interest to report at that time the known facts of the cause of death and that he had young children. But that did not provide adequate justification for the unfairness and offensiveness of some of the words and one of the photographs used in this instance.”

In response to a request for comment this morning deputy managing editor Tony Thomas said: “The article was posted online in the early morning. After a review of the story, the heading was removed within the hour.”

Nic Christensen 


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.