ACT Education Minister Joy Burch has accused The Canberra Times of a lapse of ethical standards after the Fairfax paper yesterday published a photo of a cage -- or as Burch tends to call it, an "inappropriate structure" -- custom-built at a school to control an autistic 10-year-old earlier this year. But the acting editor of the Canberra Times tells Crikey he stands by his paper: "It's called journalism". The scandal around the cage's use broke when someone associated with the school complained to the Human Rights Commission about it earlier this year. Yesterday the school principal stood down after the long-awaited conclusion of a departmental investigation into the construction of the now-demolished "inappropriate structure". In her release, Burch did not name the media outlet but accused it of going further "in publishing the photo depicting the inappropriate structure itself" (the Canberra Times was the first to publish the image at around noon yesterday).
"It is my understanding that a number of other media outlets have previously had access to these photos but have chosen not to publish them out of respect to the child and family. I am disappointed that one local media outlet has now chosen to so flagrantly disregard the interests of the child and family involved in such a manner. "I have worked very hard to maintain the privacy and dignity of those involved. I believe the decision to publish this image is a heartbreaking outcome for the family, as well as emotionally damaging for all other parties involved ... Publishing this photo does not assist in getting to the truth or add any more insight as to why it was constructed ... I call on all responsible media outlets to continue to show respect to the privacy and dignity of those involved in this matter."
By 5pm, both the ABC and the Daily Mail had published stories online depicting the cage. Publications that did not use the image included Canberra weekly City News Crikey this morning asked whether the minister had heard concerns from the school or families involved about the image, or whether anyone had expressed a wish earlier that the image not be made public. A spokesman for Burch said:
"The Minister has been in regular contact with the people involved and formed the view that the publication of this image could be potentially harmful to them."
The Canberra Times doubled down this morning, republishing the image on its front page with an accompanying article interviewing disability rights activists who sanctioned the use of the image.