Newspapers Misidentify "Teenage Terrorist" And It Could Cost Them Big
Fairfax Media has been forced into an embarrassing apology after publishing a photo of a random teenager The Age described as a "Teenage Terrorist" on the front page of its biggest newspapers today.
The media company's major metro newspapers - The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Canberra Times - misidentified the teenager as the 18-year-old alleged terror suspect Numan Haider who was shot and killed after stabbing two police officers on Tuesday night.
According to Melbourne rivalThe Herald Sun, the misidentified teenager belongs to a decorated Afghani family and is a student at Minaret Islamic College in Springvale who works part-time at the local Hungry Jacks.
The newspapers ran the young man's photo under headlines reading "TEENAGE TERRORIST" and "TEEN JIHAD".
A Fairfax Media employee told BuzzFeed the incorrect photo was sourced from their "in-house photography team" and photos of Numan Haider had been taken from Facebook over the last few days.
The publishers made the apology to the teenager and his family on its websites on Thursday, removing the image from digital editions.
One of the photographs run on this website, tablet and Fairfax papers in relation to the death of Numan Haider was published in error. The young man in a suit was not Mr Haider, and we unreservedly apologise to him for the error.The young man has no connection whatsoever with any extremist or terrorist group and we deeply regret any such inference arising from the publication of the photograph. The picture has been withdrawn from circulation.
What are the implications?
University of Sydney's Associate Professor of Law, Dr David Rolph told BuzzFeed that Fairfax Media has now opened itself up to a "serious" defamation lawsuit because it incorrectly linked someone to terrorist activity.
"Damages for defamation are capped at $366,000. This is for damage to reputation and injury to feelings. If you suffer economic loss, your damages are not capped," Dr Rolph told BuzzFeed.
But he said, Fairfax Media may want to offer an undisclosed payment to the family of the teenager to avoid taking the issue to the courts.
"Cases of mistaken identity are the types of cases publishers would ordinarily want to avoid litigating because they may have few, if any, defences."
Dr Rolph said there is no predicting how much Fairfax would pay to "make this go away".