Press council rules car crash victim had reasonable expectation to privacy

The Australian Press Council has found in breach of its standards after an image was posted of a victim at the scene of a fatal car accident in March.

Published half an hour after the crash on March 7, an article on the News Corp-owned website featured an image of a damaged vehicle with its doors open and emergency crew members. The face of a person whose head was titled back on a stretcher also appeared in the photo.

The article began with the words: “A woman has died and two others seriously injured in a head-on crash on the Hume Highway at Wilton, south of Sydney.

“Emergency crews are also working to release another woman trapped in a second vehicle in the south bound lanes of the Hume Highway, about 1km south of Picton Rd. The two vehicles collided just before 8am today.”

The image included a television’s station’s logo and had the words ‘Pheasants Nest: Fatal crash Hume Motorway closed in both directions after serious two-car crash. MUST CREDIT [the television station] News Source: [the television station]’ below it.

The publication argued the image was taken in a public place, from a distance which meant the person was not readily identifiable.

It added there was no blood shown or visible signs of injury.

According to the publication, the image was published for one hour and only received one complaint to which it removed the image.

But pointed out it was regular and longstanding journalistic practice to publish images of road accidents which are often graphic, and argued the public interest outweighed any issues around privacy or distress.

The Press Council did not agree.

Whilst the APC ruled it understood the importance and public interest of reporting road accidents, the person shown with the caption describing the photo as ‘fatal crash’, and the timing of its publication, led the Press Council to believe failed to take reasonable steps to avoid causing or contributing to substantial distress in the story.

“The magnitude of the accident and resulting traffic disruption could have been captured visually without showing the injured person, for instance, with a long shot of the scene of the accident,” the press watchdog said.

“In the circumstances, there was no sufficient justification in the public interest for publishing the image in the manner it did.”


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