Press Council rules didn’t cross the line with ‘Freak of nature’ story didn’t breach the Australian Press Council’s Standards of Practice with a story titled ‘‘Freak of Nature’: The child killer the world has forgotten’ which addressed details about convicted killer Robert Thompson’s sexuality.

Thomspon, along with Jon Venables, was convicted of the murder of two-year-old James Bulger in a high-profile case in the United Kingdom in 1993. In the story, which ran on February 27, 2018, several aspects of Thompson’s life were discussed, including his sexuality under the subheading ‘WHEN DID HE COME OUT AS GAY?’ didn’t overstep the mark with their story about convicted murderer Robert Thompson says the Press Council

Thompson and Venables committed the murder when they were both 10 years old, with Thompson released from jail at the age of 18. The article covered the murder, Thompson’s life during incarceration, and the details of his release. Under the subheading discussing his sexuality, it was reported that as of 2006, Thompson has been in a “stable gay relationship” with a partner who knows his real identity.

The Council reviewed whether the references to Thompson’s sexuality were presented with fairness and balance, to avoid causing or contributing materially to substantial offence, distress or prejudice, unless doing so is sufficiently in the public interest. In response to questions from the Council, said the article aimed to act as a ‘Where are they now?’ style piece about Thompson and Venables, and that it at no stage suggested Thompson’s sexuality had contributed to the murder.

The publication said that the fact Thompson is now in a same-sex relationship is neither offensive nor unfair, and is widely known around the world. The subheading referred to the secrecy imposed on both Thompson and Venables by the British government and the injunction on Thompson’s new identity, according to the publication.

Furthermore, argued that because the protection was being provided at taxpayers’ expense, the story was well within the public interest, compounded by the fact the murder is one of the most famous of the past century.

The Council believes publications shouldn’t place unwarranted emphasis on characteristics of individuals such as race, religion, nationality, country of origin, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, illness or age, particularly when reporting on crime, and that factual information should be presented with reasonable fairness and balance.

In this case, it was decided that the subheading referring to Thompson’s sexuality was presented with reasonable steps to remain fair and balanced by, and that the details are already in the public domain.

The Council also said that due to the considerable passage of time between the crime and the article, there was no direct connection between the reporting on Thompson’s sexuality and the crime, and that it was unlikely readers would infer an association between the two.


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