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News.com.au coverage of alleged axe attacker’s transgender status in public interest, rules Press Council

The Press Council has ruled news.com.au’s controversial coverage of a 7-Eleven axe attack early this year which referenced the accused’s transgender status did not breach any of its reporting principles.

The article – published on January 10 with the headline ‘Woman accused of terrifying 7-Eleven axe attack is transgender unionist once known as Karl’ – reported on a transgender woman arrested and charged in relation to an axe attack in Sydney.

It reported on the woman’s life before transitioning and had formerly been known as ‘Karl’, with the article including Facebook posts she made in 2012 about her transition.

The article also reported on her request to the bail court following arrest for access to two hormonal drugs, and that she would have access to healthcare while in custody.

News.com.au defended the article to the Press Council, stating it was a “profile piece” and not a report on the attack itself which is why it included an explanation of significant details of the accused’s life.

The publication said its reporter had attended the bail court and learned for the first time that the woman was transgender and it had obtained all information about the woman’s background from her Facebook page, which was open for the public to view.

News.com.au told the Press Council it was “not trying in any way to suggest the accused’s transgender status had caused the attack of which she was accused and nothing in the article implies this”.

According to the publication, it would have not been possible to report on the woman’s background accurately without referring to her transgender status.

The News Corp digital publication argued that the skew towards information about her transgender status was due to the fact there was a greater amount of information available about that aspect.

The publication said that references to the accused’s hormone therapy drugs were gathered from public submissions of the accused in open court, and there was a strong public interest in ensuring due administration of justice was seen to be done.

The Press Council accepted News.com.au’s explanation for the article and ruled the publication had ensured factual material was presented with reasonable fairness and balance and public interest justified reporting on her request for hormone therapy drugs.

While the council ruled News.com.au did not breach any principles in this instance, the council notes “that the Australian community is in the early stages of understanding the appropriate approach to respectfully and intelligently reporting on transgender issues, and accordingly acknowledges the need for caution and sensitivity in reporting on such issues”.

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