It is known as the most conservative newspaper in Australia but on Friday Rupert Murdoch’s national masthead ventured into the surprising territory of highly salacious and unsubstantiated gossip about the British royal family.

Minutes after the Guardian asked the editor-in-chief of the Australian, Christopher Dore, to comment on why the unusual article purportedly about a royal’s sex life had been published, it was taken down.

Published by the Australian’s new online youth section, The Oz, the article discussed in graphic detail the alleged sex life of a royal, based on a single “blind” item of gossip from a notorious Instagram account that did not name the subject.

It was followed up by a jokey TikTok video of the Queen “reacting” to the sexual gossip, as News Corp Australia pushed the story to its social media accounts. Complete with five photographs and an infographic, the story was live for about three hours.

It was removed at 2.36pm AEST while the TikTok was deleted a few hours later. The infographic on a third-party site was still live at the time of publication.

Although the story was published by The Oz, which has a separate subscription arrangement to the main masthead as it targets a young audience, the headline for the piece appeared under the Australian’s red logo on Google News. The Oz, which costs A$8.99 a month for subscribers, publishes youthful takes on news, celebrity and lifestyle content, including politics and sport.

The Australian’s new online section The Oz publishes youthful takes on news, celebrity and lifestyle content

The national chair of the Australian Monarchist League, Philip Benwell, who read the article before it was removed, criticised the story.

“I would say that it’s unusual for the Australian to publish something like that,” Benwell told Guardian Australia on Friday.

“You might expect that in one of the British scandal rags but not in a paper like the Australian, or the Sydney Morning Herald or the Guardian. Their job is to publish news; not innuendo and downright defamation. From the wording of the article itself it’s quite clear they don’t have any evidence for what they are suggesting.

“Whatever it is, one’s peccadilloes are a private matter as long as they don’t affect anybody else.”

Earlier this month, Dore defended The Oz after staff grumbled anonymously about the amount of resources the section had when staff were stretched thin across the paper.

Sources told the Guardian that subscriptions were few and traffic to the site was low.

“For a new brand, The Oz has already built a strong, loyal and growing audience across all platforms,” Dore said on 15 July. “The growth in audience is exceptional, well above expectations.

“Likewise the subscription numbers for The Oz are already fantastic and growing faster than I imagined. The Oz has more subscribers than any other news site (all of them combined in fact) purporting to serve a similar audience.

“Our young, extremely talented team is publishing brilliant content and building a great audience. I’m very proud of them and the groundbreaking site they are creating.”

On Instagram and TikTok, where The Oz is targeting its audience, many posts are lucky to get a handful of likes. The TikTok post about the Queen had 28 likes and no comments on Friday afternoon.

The editorial director of The Oz, Jenna Clarke, did not reply to a request for comment for this article. Neither did Dore.

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Tuesday, Mar 21, 2023