Press Council rules against Northern Star ‘junkie scum’ headline, saying it is likely to offend

Northern Star Junkie ScumThe Australian Press Council (APC) has ruled Australian Regional Media’s The Northern Star’s “Junkie Scum: Pick up syringes” headline used on newsagent display posters to promote the newspaper was “likely to cause offence” while the related article’s headline about a “blood-filled syringe” was an exaggeration.

The press-watchdog welcomed The Northern Star’s apology, published five days after the contentious headline, in which its editor acknowledged it was a “poorly worded, over-the-top, tabloid reaction” to the front page story.

The Northern Star defended the use of the word “junkie”, arguing it “was a widely used term” and the publication “was not aware that the term was offensive to a large section of the community or to intravenous drug users”.

The publication blamed “space considerations” which meant terms such as “intravenous drug user” were not practical for poster headlines.

In August last year the APC rejected the Daily Telegraph’s argument that the word “junkie” was not a pejorative term, but one which is used to describe someone addicted to hard drugs more generally,  finding the headline which was published in the hours after the discovery of Seymour Hoffman’s death from an apparent drug overdose , was a serious breach of its Standards of Practice.

In relation to The Northern Star articles, published in print and online, which both ran headlines referencing a “blood-filled syringe” alongside a close-up photograph of the syringe in question, the APC ruled the headline was an exaggeration.

“At most there appears to be some trace of what might be blood,” the APC wrote in its ruling.

The publication told the APC that it had tried to verify details that the photo, which was posted on social media with the assertion that it was “blood-filled”, by sending a photographer to the scene however the syringe could not be found.

According to The Northern Star, the report was “of significant public interest as it concerned a “pattern of behaviour” which needed to be highlighted to the community because it “is a public safety issue”.

The APC ruled the newspaper had “adopted the information with little effort to establish the accuracy of the assertion and without qualifying the assertion about the location of the syringe” and had failed to take reasonable steps to provide fairness and balance in the report.

Miranda Ward


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.