Australian associate editor Chris Kenny’s reporting on Nauru didn’t breach any Press Council guidelines, the body says in an adjudication published today.

In October last year, Kenny was the first journalist granted access to Nauru in some time, after numerous media organisations had their requests for visas denied. His reporting drew fierce criticism, especially after one of his subjects, the refugee known as “Abyan”, was reportedly upset and went to hospital after his visit.

The complaints raised to the Press Council revolved around the headline on one of the articles (which referred to Abyan as a “rape refugee”) and around the appropriateness and fairness of interviewing her.

According to the adjudication:

“The publication said it was sensitive to Abyan’s situation and accordingly did not divulge her real name, reveal her face or provide her residential address on Nauru. It said in gathering the material for the report, the journalist had visited Abyan’s home and identified himself by name and as a journalist, and explained how the information would be used. The publication said Abyan had clearly consented to the interview and invited the journalist into her home to have the discussion. The publication noted that Abyan has a reasonable command of English, but asked to be accompanied by her roommate to assist in translation and ensure her answers were understood. The publication said Abyan consented to be photographed at that time, provided her face was not shown.”

As to the headline, the Oz itself acknowledged it was “inelegant” and “too blunt” but said it didn’t mean to cause offence and was merely trying to quickly summarise the story.

The council notes in its adjudication that it did not have Abyan’s participation in its process, and so it had “less information” than it would like. Nonetheless, it accepted The Australian‘s claims regarding the article. The reporting was on a matter of “significant public interest”, and material put to the council suggested Kenny did have Abyan’s consent to do the interview, “although determining consent in the context of a person held in offshore detention is difficult”. It noted the Oz didn’t identify Abyan.

On issues of care and sensitivity, the headline was a bit much, but “does not amount to causing substantial offence, distress or prejudice in breach of General Principle 6”.

On Twitter, Australian CEO Nicholas Gray said Kenny was vindicated by the ruling.


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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey