A Melbourne teenager has reached a settlement agreement with Fairfax Media, after he was wrongly identified as a terrorist on the front pages of The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Canberra Times last September.
Abu Baker Alam was incorrectly identified as Numan Haider – the man who attacked police and was fatally shot in Endeavour Hills – on the front pages of the major Fairfax newspapers, two regional newspapers and on a number of news websites.
The out of court settlement was reached as Mr Alam was preparing to commence a defamation action.
As part of the settlement, The Age has agreed to publish a front page apology to the Narre Warren South teenager, with apologies also appearing in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Canberra Times. Fairfax has also agreed to donate $20,000 towards the construction of a proposed Afghan mosque in Doveton, and pay Mr Alam a confidential amount in damages.
In addition, Andrew Holden, editor in chief of The Age, has written a letter to the current Acting Chief Commissioner and a letter to the Afghan community. The letter to the Acting Chief Commissioner is in respect of Mr Alam’s desire to become a police officer and the letter to the Afghan community is an apology to the community for the severe mistake made by wrongfully publishing Mr Alam’s photo.
Mr Alam said he was pleased that Fairfax had acknowledged its mistake.
“To have my face connected with an act of terrorism on the front pages of major Australian newspapers, and all over the internet, was devastating for me and my family.
“This was a terrible mistake that damaged my reputation and my family’s good name. We were forced to defend ourselves against the worst kind of accusations while being placed in potential danger.
“We came to Australia as Afghan refugees eight years ago because we wanted a better life. We came here to escape terrorism and to live in peace. We are in no way connected to any terrorist group.
“This whole incident has been very distressing, but I am grateful that as part of my settlement I was able to give back to my local community through a donation that will go towards building a new mosque.”
Slater and Gordon defamation lawyer Jeremy Zimet said Mr Alam’s case was at the extreme end of the scale in terms of defamation.
“Mr Alam was incorrectly associated with terrorism on the front pages of three prominent city newspapers, in two local newspapers, and on the internet.
“The publication was extremely defamatory and the settlement should serve as a reminder to all media outlets that they have an obligation to get it right.
“While it is inevitable that journalists will source information from social media, this case demonstrates the risks involved in using such information, and the need to carefully verify its accuracy before publication.
“Fairfax used a photograph of Mr Alam that had been put on Facebook. Mr Alam does not have a Facebook account, and had no way of asserting any control over who viewed or accessed this image.
“Budget cuts and a 24 hour news-cycle undoubtedly put pressure on journalists and publishers. But that does not relieve media organisations of their obligation to ensure that the stories they publish are accurate – particularly around issues such as terrorism.”