The editor of a Gold Coast newspaper has defended a front page headline that appeared to mock a man’s disappearance.
The Gold Coast Bulletin reported that a man was seen paddling on Lake Orr at Varsity Lakes on Thursday, June 28.
A group of witnesses allegedly advised the man to come to shore, as it was late at night and the man appeared to be heavily intoxicated.
One witness reportedly said that the man on the lake answered their pleas in a very thick Irish accent.
The alarm was raised with police at 11pm that evening and a search for the man commenced. Police confirmed that an empty kayak was found in the middle of the shark-infested lake.
Sonar equipment was used in the search. However, the equipment only detected a number of bull sharks in the lake.
In Saturday’s edition of the Gold Coast Bulletin, the story ran on the front page with the headline: “Drunk disappears in lake infested with sharks. He’ll need … Luck Of The Irish”.
The editor, Peter Gleeson, has defended the publication’s headline, which appears to make light of what was potentially a missing persons case. He argued that a person who gets into the lake under those conditions would need a bit of luck to survive.
He was asked whether the headline implied that the person was stupid.
“A man gets into a shark-infested lake, late at night, when inebriated. Would you consider this person to be stupid?” Mr Gleeson asked.
Police confirmed that the search for the missing person was stood down on July 3, pending further information.
The search of the lake yielded no results and there have been no reports of a missing person.
A police spokesperson said that there was nothing in the report to indicate that the man involved was Irish. He said he is aware that one witness reportedly mentioned an Irish accent, however, there is no evidence to confirm the man’s nationality.
Mr Gleeson confirmed that a reporter for the publication spoke to witnesses who say that the individual involved had a ‘strong Irish accent’.
The editor said that the headline was not intended to be insensitive.
“My grandfather is Irish and I am a Gleeson,” he told the Irish Echo.
“I’m a quarter Irish and I think I have a sense of humour.
“There were no reports of him surfacing or of a missing person. I think he (the missing person) has had a bit of luck.”
This article appeared just a day after the reported incident, when the search for the individual was still ongoing.
Mr Gleeson conceded that the use of the headline was inappropriate but said he had no complaints on the matter.
“I can see how the headline would appear to be flippant to others.
“If it has offended the Irish, I apologise,” he added.
“I understand with the benefit of hindsight that it may have been offensive.”
Prof Ronán McDonald, Chair of Modern Irish Studies at the University of New South Wales, questioned the choice of headline in the circumstances of a missing person.
“A harmless, even affectionate phrase? Or a condescending cheesy one, with its origins in ethnic stereotyping? I would not find it offensive most of the time
“But added to the drunken stereotype in this headline, it seems coarse and dunderheaded journalism, especially in the context of a possible tragedy.”