Press Council rules Daily Mail used misdated photos of Bondi Beach

The Daily Mail’s use of misdated photos to report that people were illegally ignoring social distancing rules at Bondi Beach, on a day the beach was actually closed, breached two Australian Press Council rules.

In a story published in the early hours of Sunday 5 April 2020, The Daily Mail used photos featuring people at Bondi Beach, apparently on Friday 3 April, supplied by its photo agency, to report that locals had “blatant disregard for the social distancing rules in place to slow the spread of coronavirus”. In fact, the beach had been closed to the public from 22 March, and was still closed on 3 April.

The Australian Press Council consequently received a complaint about the story – headlined “Beach bums! Sydneysiders ignore social distancing rules as they flock to Bondi to lap up the final days of summer – risking massive fines for breaking lockdown rules” – and asked The Daily Mail to address whether it had breached the Council’s Standards of Practice.

These rules require publications such as The Daily Mail – which declined to comment for this story – to ensure its reporting is factual and not misleading. Outlets must also provide a correction, or something similar, if they publish material that is “significantly inaccurate or misleading”. The Daily Mail breached both of these rules, the council determined.

The article was posted at 2:38am and taken down as soon as the publication realised the photographs were labelled with the wrong dates. It told the council it has also “taken steps to ensure a similar mistake does not happen again”, but it did not issue a correction in response to the story’s “significant inaccuracy”.

The online publication acknowledged that “the article was written around the pictures and it was an honest mistake”. The Daily Mail said its picture agency is reputable, and relies on the agency to provide accurate content and captions. The agency’s UK office seemed to re-caption the photos with the incorrect dates, it claimed.

The Council’s decision has been published on The Daily Mail

In its decision, the council said that: “The events were reported to have occurred on the Friday and it is reasonable to assume, given the significance and potential illegality of the events reported on, that if they had occurred they would be reported on by one or more media outlets on the Saturday.

“When deciding to publish on the Sunday, the publication should have been alert to the fact that on the Saturday other media outlets had not carried reports of the events and the publication should therefore have taken steps to check the accuracy of the photographs rather than simply relying upon the reputation of the picture agency.

“Accordingly, the council considers the publication did not take reasonable steps to verify the photographs, and to ensure that the factual information in the article was accurate.”

In this case, the rule requiring media companies to not cause a substantial risk to health or safety (unless it is in the public interest) was also relevant, but the council decided the story did not breach it.

“The publication said there was certainly no intention by it to contribute to fears and anxieties in the community,” the council’s decision read.

“It also said numerous contemporary stories on social distancing breaches at Sydney beaches had also been published by various news outlets, and that it had received accurate photographs of social distancing breaches at other Sydney beaches on that day, which added credence to the story.”

The ruling has been posted on The Daily Mail’s website.


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