Press Council Adjudication


The following adjudication has been issued by the Australian Press Council.

The Press Council has considered a complaint about an article headed The death of Sally Brooks, published on the website of The Age on 10 October 2013. It reported the findings of the jury in the trial of Robert Meade for the murder of his former wife, Sally Brooks. After separating from Ms Brooks, Robert Meade had remarried and moved cities with his new wife (the complainant) and her daughter.

The complainant said that the article breached her daughter's privacy by naming her, when there was no need to do so. She said her daughter had no involvement in the crime, was not called as a witness, and was only mentioned in passing by the judge. She said her daughter had been 17 and undertaking her final high school exams at the time the article was published, and it had affected her health and wellbeing.

The publication said that the daughter's name was read out in court and was not subject to any suppression order. It said that as it was a domestic murder case, the domestic arrangements of the accused with the complainant and her daughter were relevant and at the time it had not known the daughter's age. The fact that the judge had not mentioned her age – when he had clearly referred to the age of the three younger children of Robert Meade and Sally Brooks – suggested she was not a young child.

The Council's Principles state: "News and comment should be presented honestly and fairly, and with respect for the privacy and sensibilities of individuals. However, the right to privacy is not to be interpreted as preventing publication of matters of public record or obvious or significant public interest." The Privacy Principles state: "Unless otherwise restricted by law or court order, open court hearings are matters of public record and can be reported by the press. Such reports need to be fair and balanced. They should not identify relatives or friends of people accused or convicted of crime unless the reference to them is necessary for the full, fair and accurate reporting of the crime or subsequent legal proceedings."

The Council noted the publication was correct in stating that no suppression order operated to prevent publication of the daughter's name. It is also clearly in the public interest for publications to report on findings of the courts, including in this case, the jury's finding concerning the death of Sally Brooks.

However, the Council considered that publishing the name of the complainant's daughter was not sufficiently in the public interest that it outweighed the need to respect her privacy, especially as she was a minor and still  at school. The Council noted the publication had withheld the names of the three children of Robert Meade and Sally Brooks, and had only named the complainant's daughter in the version of the article published on its website (and not in the still-lengthy version published in the newspaper). These aspects contributed to the suggestion that the names of the children involved in the matter were not required for a full, frank and accurate report of the crime, and that it would have been sufficient simply to refer to her as "Robert Meade's step-daughter".

Accordingly, the complaint is upheld.

This story Press Council Adjudication first appeared on The Age.