A Victorian coroner has called on the Australian Press Council to revise its guidelines after a journalist was called numerous times by a man involved in a 43-hour siege with police.

Convicted rapist Antonio “Tony” Loguancio called Nine Network chief of staff Kate McGrath numerous times during the siege, before he fatally shot himself. One of the phone calls lasted almost an hour. Police had been searching for Loguancio for almost a week before they found him in a bungalow in Glenroy, Victoria, prompting the siege.

Victoria Police used the media to issue pleas to Loguancio to hand himself in, which resulted in a frenzy of coverage about “Mad Dog” — a nickname the media had previously used. 

Coroner Audrey Jamieson found that sensationalist coverage of the hunt for Loguancio and subsequent siege had made the rapist “go to ground”, making it harder for police to negotiate with him.

“It should come as no surprise to police that the media sensationalised the information provided to them at the media conference,” the coroner said in her report.

Jamieson said McGrath’s phone calls had interfered with the police investigation.

“It ultimately amounted to an opportunistic exploitation of a significant police incident, executed by Ms McGrath without any consideration for the fact that she may be compromising police endeavours to have Tony surrender himself,” Jamieson said. “Ms McGrath’s contact with Tony … was conducted to the exclusion of negotiators and limited their already precarious ability to engage and negotiate with Tony.”

Jamieson said the case had “demonstrated the capacity of the media to disrupt an active police operation, and warrants a review by the Australian Press Council of it Statement of General Principles”.

In this case, Nine would only have been governed by the Press Council if the story were running on its website, as Nine’s website is a member of the Press Council. ACMA, which regulates broadcasters, typically investigates what has been broadcast rather than the actions of journalists outside of broadcasting. — Emily Watkins

Peter Fray

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