Australia’s News Corp newspapers, absolutely filthy to scapegoat someone – anyone – for the current coronavirus spike, have found their newest marks in a pair of QLD teens who returned positive COVID-19 tests after flouting quarantine restrictions in returning to the state from a brief trip to Melbourne. While the issue of wrongdoing is certainly not in dispute, what is is the fact that major mastheads – including the Herald Sun and the Courier Mail – have fallen over themselves to splash the teen’s faces and identities across their front pages, turning them both into instant pariahs. And it absolutely fucking sucks.
The story goes that the two teens – whose identities we will not be reprinting in any form here – travelled to Melbourne from Brisbane and subverted quarantine protocols en route back to Queensland by first flying into Sydney Airport. Authorities are also reportedly investigating whether they allegedly provided false information to border officials upon returning to Queensland, and are currently tracing the pair’s steps across the eight-day period that they spent moving around the community before returning positive COVID-19 tests.
That these actions are wrong is not up for debate. One of the teens has already been fined $4,003 for making false declarations, and both will almost certainly front court at a later date. Contact tracing is underway in a race against time. The potential ramifications of the incident, for Queensland, are vast.
However, both the Courier Mail and the Herald Sun have found it within their own standards of best journalistic practice – which are puddle-deep at best – to splash their names and images across front pages of newspapers, home pages of websites, and social media channels right across the board. The seriousness of the circumstances does not excuse just how shitty the reporting is.
The Courier Mail’s front page ran this piece of hot buttered bullshit, blatantly painting the duo as “enemies of the state.” The pixelation on the faces and names is our addition. The Courier Mail ran them plain as day.
The Herald Sun took the (by comparison) more measured approach, opting to merely label the pair “dumb and dumber” while splashing their uncensored faces across today’s front page.
It’s a fucking foul scene. A cruel harassment of two people whose medical histories should not be a matter for the public record. And it was a pattern replicated across other major mastheads as well, even beyond News Corp. Both The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald (whose parent company Nine also owns this publication) chose to publish the duo’s names across both print and online this morning. The ABC has also done so this afternoon.
It’s easy enough to fall into the mindset that naming-and-shaming is a necessary evil when the actions of one can affect so many. But if that were truly in the public good, then why aren’t we naming-and-shaming the security guards at the Melbourne quarantine hotels? Why aren’t we naming-and-shaming those who attended the KFC house party? Better yet, why aren’t we naming-and-shaming the members of the affluent Aspen ski trip who deliberately flouted quarantine orders back in March?
That last incident is of particular note. Despite case numbers spiking in the well-to-do Melbourne areas of Portsea, Sorrento, and Toorak, not one publication dared speak the names of those responsible. They were afforded the greatest of privacy in all coverage.
In fact, The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald were at pains to stress that their identities would be concealed, running this disclaimer in an article published on March 31st.
News Corp publications, similarly, took a wide berth. At no point were any of the Aspen ski trip attendees outed against their will. In fact, the identity of some of the cluster was only revealed after they voluntarily allowed their names to be printed. Chief among that group was the trip’s host, former Liberal Party treasurer Andrew Abercrombie, whose name was cited quietly by the Herald Sun on April 1st.
Andrew Stuart, co-founder of real estate giant HockingStuart and another self-identified attendee of the trip, was even afforded significant print space in the Herald Sun to defend his character. On two occasions, quotes attributed to Stuart were printed unchallenged in the Herald. The first instance occurred on April 2nd, where he publicly called for an end to the “vitriol” being directed at the Aspen ski trip goers. The second occurred on July 17, with Stuart openly bragging that those who contracted coronavirus in Aspen were, in fact, heroes of the pandemic who will be viewed as “saviours” due to the blood they donated to immunologists researching antibodies in recovered COVID-19 patients.
Neither Abercrombnie nor Stuart were among those who allegedly flouted quarantine measures after returning from Aspen. But the point about coverage remains clear: It’s hard to see any possible scenario in which these QLD teens are afforded even a fraction of that forgiveness in News Corp print.
Despite their relative similarities, it tracks that the difference between coverage comes down to matters of class and status. Namely, the Toorak residents have the means to sue the papers for defamation in the event that their names were published. It seems likely both the Courier and the Herald surmised that these QLD teens don’t have that luxury. Therefore, it’s been open season on them today.
It’s fucking disgusting reporting, plastering their names and faces into national attention without consent. The identities and private health details of two people – who did wrong and are already being punished in accordance with the law – is not in the public interest. It’s shameful, disgusting, vindictive behaviour straight out of the muckiest pages of the News Corp playbook.
And all this doesn’t even begin to address the hypotheticals of how hard the headlines and all this merciless coverage may – or may not – have gone if the two people in question didn’t just-so-happen to be black.
Further reports now state that one of the two teens has reportedly refused to properly cooperate with contact tracing efforts in Queensland. And when you consider the fact that at some point down the line, private, personal information has passed from the hands of people who were supposed to be protecting them to the feckless, rabid morons in the News Corp shit pits, that resistance becomes probably fair enough.