The Seven Network, WIN Television and The Illawarra Mercury have apologised publicly to the family of Molly Lord, the 13-year-old who was killed in a quad bike accident last July near Wollongong.

In lengthy, detailed apologies regional broadcaster and Channel Nine affiliate WIN and the local Mercury, owned by Fairfax Media, admitted their reporting caused great distress to the Lord family and they should have shown more sensitivity.

Molly Jean Lord, a champion horse rider, died from injuries last July after she was thrown from the quad bike at home on horse trainer Peter Lord and Linda Goldspink-Lord’s property Kembla Grange. Her mother was immediately disgusted by the way the media swarmed the property, flying low in a helicopter and using a long lens to capture images of the family grieving over the deceased teenager’s body. Goldspink-Lord took to Facebook to express her disgust, sparking a social media storm:

“A reporter was on our private property very soon after the accident and whilst Molly was still on the ground. He walked up to the house down to the stables anywhere looking for a story.

“I went outside at some point to go to her horse for some comfort when the Channel 7 helicopter flew above me trying to get footage.”

Ten months later the three media organisations have reached a confidential settlement with the Lords after the NSW Supreme Court ordered the parties to mediation.

Despite earlier denying any wrongdoing, they now acknowledge entering the private property and publishing and broadcasting images of the deceased teenager was regrettable and they promise staff will be trained to behave more sensitively when reporting tragedies. The Mercury said on page three last week:

“If the situation was to arise again in the future, we would deal with it differently — we have learned from what occurred.”

The newspaper had published a large photograph by Mercury photographer Orlando Chiodo which showed Goldspink-Lord kneeling and grieving over Molly’s body, the Supreme Court heard.

Although much of the family’s anger originally had been directed towards Seven News and reporter Paul Kadak, Seven appears to have released the weakest of the three statements and has apologised on its Facebook page only. Seven argued its filming and broadcast of images “did not give rise to any compensable loss”:

“The proceedings brought against Channel Seven by Mr and Mrs Lord, parents of Molly Lord who died in a tragic accident last year, have been settled on confidential terms to the satisfaction of the parties. Seven has offered, and the Lords have accepted, Seven’s expressions of condolence and sympathy. Seven regrets the distress which the publicity about Molly’s death caused the Lord family.”

Goldspink-Lord declined to comment when approached by Crikey as she is subject to a confidentiality agreement. But she wrote on her Facebook page:

“Our family wishes to express our heartfelt thanks and appreciation to everyone who provided love, support and care to us following upon the death of our beloved daughter, Molly, in July 2012 and the media coverage that followed.”

A friend of the family posted:

“A win for my friend Linda Goldspink-Lord and her family… Fighting the media is a tough job… But Linda and her family fought for the rights of others … Well done Linda & Pete for standing up for what you believe in.”

Professor Mark Pearson of Griffith University told Crikey the apologies are significantly long and prominent and the “intent was laudable” — but the real test of whether anything changes will come the next time the newspaper and TV stations have to report an incident in the face of intense competition.

“The media is afraid of the right to privacy going to a superior court as it has already been upheld in a district and county court,” he said. “The media organisations are trying to keep it at bay as it would involve significant damages.

“They also may have settled because large media organisations are stretched financially and are trying to argue there is no need for tougher new media regulations. There are some signs in recent months that the media is starting to take their responsibility more seriously.”

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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