NT News caused distress to family and friends of deceased teenage boys, APC finds

An NT News article covering the reactions to the deaths of two teenage boys in Darwin failed to avoid causing substantial distress to the families and friends of the deceased, the Australian Press Council has ruled.

The print article headed  ‘He told me he loved me’ and online as ‘Friends in shock over death of Darwin teens..on Stuart Highway’, featured an image of a young girl who was the subject of the article.

The articles, published on February 27, discussed concerns around the death of the two boys who were allegedly subject to a “prank gone wrong”, but the majority of the piece was based on the girl’s friendship with the boys, her reactions and her last contact with them.

Comments from the girl included she “would never forget” them, with one of whom she “had a ‘special connection'”.

One complainant – the mother of the girl featured – said she was not informed the article would be focused on her daughter and was led to believe the article would feature multiple friends.

She said the article had offended many of the boys’ family and friends and as a result, her daughter had been bullied. She said when she asked the publication to apologise to the family and friends, it failed to do so.

A separate complaint from the aunt of one of the victims said the reporting of the accident itself did not match with the information provided to the police and said the article – with the girl’s photo – had caused additional stress to the family.

NT News said the article accurately recorded what it was told, and noted the death was in the public interest given it was a road tragedy.

Commenting specifically on why it did not wish to provide an apology to family and friends, NT News said the complainant consented to an interview and photograps, and she was present.

Responding to the other complainant, NT News said the accident was believed to have been a prank gone wrong, according to several sources.

“The publication said police at the time corrected some of the media for falsely reporting that the driver had ‘swerved’ but the publication had not reported the ‘swerving’ allegation at any time,” the ruling said.

“The publication said it attempted to present the relationship between the teenage girl and the complainant’s nephew in a context of friendship. It also made attempts to speak with members of the boys’ families but was told they were too distraught to speak on the day, which it respected.”

But NT News accepted the story was sensitive to the families and friends involved, and said it was never the intention to cause offence.

NT News apologised for the damage caused and said it would endeavour to improve processes for handling sensitive issues. It also informed the Press watchdog it involved staff members had met to discuss why the story triggered the response it did.

The Press Council rejected complaints about misleading information and intruding on a person’s privacy.

But it found the article was in breach of causing substantial distress, without sufficient public interest.


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