Sydney’s The Daily Telegraph has been cleared of breaching the Press Council’s Standard of Practice after it published a front page cover image reported to show American journalist James Foley being beheaded by Islamic State.
The cover from its 21st August edition last year showed Foley kneeling in front of a hooded person brandishing a large knife in front of the victim’s head with the headline “Barbarians behead US journalist in grotesque propaganda clip”. The image was apparently gleaned from a You Tube video posted by Islamic State and Foley was subsequently murdered moments later.
The Council asked The Daily Telegraph to comment on whether the image breached its Standards of Practice that requires publishers take reasonable steps to “avoid causing substantial offence, distress or prejudice, or a substantial risk to health or safety, unless doing so is sufficiently in the public interest”.
The News Limited publication agreed the image was confronting but was in the public’s interest as it showed the “wickedness and horror” of the Islamic group. News argued it stopped short of showing the actual beheading that some other news agencies had published.
In its findings, the Council agreed that the image could cause offense; however, “agrees that it is sometimes in the public interest for people to be exposed in a powerful way to realities which they may find upsetting but about which it is important that public opinion is well-informed. This applies especially to behaviour that, as in this case, is of an extreme kind with which they may not already be familiar and which has potentially far-reaching consequences.”
The Council argued that the image didn’t necessarily have to be used as a front cover and could have been equally effective published inside the newspaper. Ultimately it wasn’t a breach of its standards and “this is mainly because there was a very strong justification in the public interest due to the extreme behaviour about which it was reasonable to believe readers should be well-informed”.