Australian Press Council condemns attempt to ‘out’ Rebel Wilson


Rebel Wilson outed Andrew Hornery Whoopi Goldberg

A perceived threat to “out” actress Rebel Wilson was “likely to cause substantial offence and distress”, the Australian Press Council has found.

Australia’s media watchdog said an article by Sydney Morning Herald gossip columnist Andrew Hornery breached the Australian Press Council’s standards.

Earlier this year, Hornery had contacted Wilson about a story that the actor was dating Los Angeles-based designer Ramona Agruma. The columnist gave the actor two days to respond or the publication would go ahead and publish a story about the relationship.

Wilson, who was not out at the time, preempted the story by announcing her relationship with Agruma in an Instagram post.

Hornery speaks of Rebel Wilson ‘gazumping’ the story

In the now-deleted column, Hornery said he was aware of the relationship and planned to break the story, “giving [Wilson] two days to comment on her new relationship with another woman, LA designer Ramona Agruma, before publishing a single word”.

He said he “erred on the side of caution and emailed Rebel Wilson’s representatives.”

“Big mistake,” he wrote.

“Wilson opted to gazump the story, posting about her new ‘Disney Princess’ on Instagram early yesterday, the same platform she had previously used to brag about her handsome ex-boyfriend, wealthy American beer baron Jacob Busch.”

The article provoked a global backlash and drew criticism from international news agencies and celebrities including The New York Times, Whoopi Goldberg, George Takei, and Ronan Keating.

‘I just thought it was kind of grubby behaviour’

Speaking to The Australian, Rebel Wilson opened up about the “grubby” situation, saying the rushed announcement came before she and Agruma had told some friends and family they were a couple.

“I just thought it was kind of grubby behaviour,” she said.

“Basically, with the situation where a journalist is threatening to out you, you’ve got to hurry.

“And some people we didn’t get a chance to tell before it came out publicly. And that’s not ideal.”

Wilson said while a same-sex relationship was “not that big of a deal”, there were still some sensitive discussions needed with both her and Agruma’s families before going public.

“There are levels to telling ­people,” Wilson said.

“You tell your close family and your friends and not everybody. Across our two families, not everybody is as ­accepting as what you’d hope for, and we were trying to be respectful to those people and tell them in our own way.”

SMH intruded on Wilson’s ‘reasonable expectations of privacy’

In a ruling published on the Sydney Morning Herald’s website on Saturday, the Australian Press Council noted that the Herald had conceded it breached the council’s principles, and that it had retracted the article and replaced it with a “prominent apology” along with an editor’s apology.

“The Council accepts that public figures, such as Ms Wilson, can have a reduced expectation of privacy and there can also be a public interest sufficient to justify intruding on their reasonable expectations of privacy,” the media watchdog said.

“However, in this instance, the Council considers that the tenor of the publication’s communications with Ms Wilson concerning a deeply personal matter and the associated commentary on a matter which had no apparent connection to her public activities, intruded on her reasonable expectations of privacy. The Council does not consider there was sufficient public interest to justify such an intrusion. Accordingly, the publication breached General Principle 5.

“The Council considers that, taken collectively, the article’s reference to “outing” same-sex celebrity couples, its reference to giving Ms Wilson two days to respond to information concerning her relationship, and its forthright criticism of her for not responding, was likely to cause substantial offence and distress.

“The Council does not consider there was a sufficient public interest justification in doing so. Accordingly, the Council concludes that the publication breached General Principle 6.”

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Sarah Davison
Sarah Davison

After working in print and radio, Sarah has joined the team at QNews to expand their coverage into South Australia. Sarah has a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology, and a Masters in Journalism, Media, and Communications. Get in touch: sarah@qnews.com.au

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