The Sunday Telegraph last night took a deadline-busting decision to admit that its so-called nude photographs of politican Pauline Hanson were not her – and to apologise. The decision was taken so late that the version of the paper’s editorial comment that went online at midnight does not include the apology or admission that the pictures were not real.
In a move virtually unprecedented for an Australian newspaper, the Tele this morning gives over its entire editorial column to the apology, which is signed by editor Neil Breen.
And the paper’s decision to shift the blame onto photographer Jamie Fawcett, who brokered last week’s pictures, also appears to have been a late one. In the final edition version of the editorial (which at the time of writing is in the paper’s online archive, although its home page is still mistakenly linked to the old version), Breen says:
“Pauline Hanson: I’ve said all week that I’d be the first person to apologise to you if you if it were proven the pictures we published last weekend were not of you. I am now convinced we have the proof they were presented to us as part of an elaborate con. So Pauline, I am sorry. We should never have published them.”
He goes on to claim that the man who sold the photos, Jack Johnson, had told Fawcett he also had pictures of another, unnamed Australian celebrity. He adds that Fawcett “did not disclose this vital information to The Sunday Telegraph. If he did the paper’s approach to the pictures would have been quite different.”
The earlier edition of his editorial did not admit the photos were not of Hanson, and carried no mention of Fawcett. The rewrite also saw another change – in the early edition, the paper acknowledged readers did not feel that publication was in the public interest anyway, saying:
“We accept many readers disagree and many of you believe that publishing the 30-year-old pictures served no public interest.”
In the final edition, this is toned down to:
“We accept that decision was made on a flawed premise.”
The issue of the difference between the public being interested in something and the public interest was raised by last week’s Media Watch, which reported the paper’s deputy editor Helen McCabe as saying: “That will be determined by the number of people that buy the paper.”
The paper also ran out of time to change today’s letters page – the first one begins: “Isn’t it great to see Pauline Hanson is a real person. So what if she let a friend at the time photograph her with no clothes on.”