The Sydney Morning Herald failed to take reasonable steps to ensure the accuracy of its journalism when it published its much-derided February article about the supposedly un-investigated brutal gang rape of a Sydney nurse by “Middle Eastern raping cunts”.

The article, by Paul Sheehan, has been internally investigated by the SMH. Editor-in-chief Darren Goodsir said he found unacceptable lapses in journalistic practice in its publication. It was also the subject of a scathing and detailed piece by journalist Richard Cooke that was jointly published by The Monthly and Guardian Australia, which alleged a pattern of sloppy journalism on the part of Sheehan, a senior writer at the paper. Sheehan has since taken redundancy.

The paper does not appear to have defended the Press Council adjudication, expressing its regret and telling the body that the article had “represented unacceptable breaches of fundamental journalistic practice”. The Press Council agreed with this assessment, saying in its adjudication:

“… reasonable steps were not taken to verify or justify the report and that its Standard of Practice relating to accuracy and fairness was clearly breached in this respect. The Council also concludes that reasonable steps were not taken to avoid substantial offence, distress and prejudice and without sufficient justification in the public interest, especially in reporting Louise’s description of the Arabic-speaking men as ‘MERCs. Middle Eastern raping c—-‘.”

But it also said the paper had taken reasonable steps to publish a correction and undertake remedial action:

“Although the original decision to publish the article was deeply regrettable, given the subsequent steps taken by the publication, including its publication of critical articles and letters, the Council does not consider that there was a failure to provide adequate remedial action. Accordingly, there was no breach in this respect.”

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey