670/2021 - Mr Jim Corr and the Irish Daily Mirror
The Press Ombudsman has not upheld a complaint made by Mr Jim Corr that the Irish Daily Mirror breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy), Principle 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment), Principle 4 (Respect for Rights) and Principle 8 (Prejudice) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.
On 11 December 2020, the Irish Daily Mirror published an opinion column on the subject of opposition to vaccines for Covid 19. There were two references to Mr Jim Corr, the complainant, in the column. The first of these was as follows “Unfortunately a lot of ordinary people are taking medical advice from online quacks like Jim Corr … rather than scientific facts from doctors and scientists.” The second reference was “Hardly a day goes by when Jimbo doesn’t tweet something less than complimentary about vaccines to his 43,300 followers on Twitter although, as far as I know, he has no medical qualifications.” The article was accompanied by an image of Mr Corr playing a guitar.
Mr Corr submitted a complaint to the Office of the Press Ombudsman stating that the article breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) as contrary to what was published in the article, he was not an “online quack”. He also stated that it was inaccurate to state that he “did not back his opinions with scientific facts from doctors and scientists”. He claimed that Principle 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment) had been breached as the article stated as a fact that he was an “online quack” and this was a comment rather than a fact. He said he “most often backs all comments with robust medical and scientific evidence”. He said that Principle 4 (Respect for Rights) had been breached because the article suggested that he was “insane and psychotic unable to distinguish reality – a reference to several medical diagnoses”. He said the article implied that he was a “homicidal maniac” and that there was an implied association in the article between him and Mr Jimmy Saville. He also complained that the image of him accompanying the article violated Principle 4. Mr Corr claimed that Principle 8 (Prejudice) had been breached as the article “incited hatred against (him) as someone to be despised for his views” and incited the readers against him with ‘retaliatory action’ as he was a “danger to society”.
The Irish Daily Mirror in a submission to the Office of the Press Ombudsman stood over what it had published and said that the background was that Mr Corr had posted/tweeted a quantity of material relating to the Coronavirus.
It said that the reference to ‘online quacks’, which Mr Corr complained about under Principles 1 and 2 was accepted by Mr Corr as being a comment and that the reference should be considered in the context of comments placed by Mr Corr on Twitter and his own web page. It referred to some comments posted by Mr Corr, such as one that read “ … our children are being utterly poisoned by vaccines”. In addition the newspaper noted that Mr Corr had retweeted on many occasions tweets which were hostile to vaccinating people. The Mirror went on to say its columnist was “entitled to voice his opinion that Mr Corr’s tweets and social media posts had the propensity to encourage people not to take the vaccine”. The newspaper concluded that the comment complained about was recognised by Mr Corr as a comment and so it was sufficiently identifiable to readers as such, and did not therefore breach Principles 1 or 2 of the Code.
On the claim that Principle 4 had been breached the newspaper noted that Mr Corr in his submission claimed that the article stated that he was “insane and psychotic”. The newspaper regarded this claim as baseless. The insanity referred to in the article was, the newspaper stated, “the propensity for people to be credulous in adopting an anti-vaccine position in the face of the advancing threat of Covid-19” and was not a comment on the actual state of Mr Corr’s mental health. In regard to the claim of a breach of Principle 8 the Irish Daily Mirror noted that the criticism of Mr Corr found in the article was not based on any of the categories found in Principle 8 and that what was found in the article was antipathy to Mr Corr’s views on vaccinations and not any prejudice towards him. It said that the image of Mr Corr was published simply because he is referred to in the text.
As the complaint could not be resolved by conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
Principle 1 requires the press to strive at all times for truth and accuracy. The article stated that a lot of ordinary people were taking medical advice from online quacks like Mr Corr. This is certainly provocative language but given Mr Corr’s activity on social media on vaccination and given that in his submission Mr Corr does not deny his opposition to vaccination I believe this remark is not a breach of Principle 1. Readers of the column will be aware that the columnist is being provocative and expressing in colourful language his opinion of Mr Corr’s views. Mr Corr in his complaint stated that he most often backed up his comments with “robust medical and scientific evidence”. It is certainly the case that there are a number of medically and scientifically qualified people who have expressed their concerns about vaccination, but given that there is an overwhelming consensus in both the medical and scientific community in favour of the benefits of vaccination the description used in the article whilst provocative and upsetting for Mr Corr falls within the bounds of what is required if Principle 1 is not to be breached.
Principle 2 requires the press to distinguish between fact and comment. The article was clearly an opinion column and readers would have expected to find there the comments of the writer. There is no failure to distinguish between fact and comment in the article.
Principle 4 requires the press to not knowingly publish matter based on malicious misrepresentation or unfounded accusations. Given Mr Corr’s record of use of social media to argue against vaccination it is not possible to sustain an argument that what was said in the article about Mr Corr was based on malicious misrepresentation or unfounded accusations.
Mr Corr also complained about the use of a photograph of him performing on stage which accompanied the article. He claimed that the image used associated him with his band and “had
nothing to do with the article”. In the public eye Mr Corr is best known as a musician and therefore the choice of an image of him holding a guitar had no particular editorial significance and was not a breach of the Principle.
In addition, nothing could be found in the article that might suggest an association between Mr Corr and Jimmy Saville.
Principle 8 requires the press to avoid publishing material intended to or likely to cause grave offence or stir up hatred against an individual on the basis of their race, religion, nationality, colour, ethnic origin, membership of the travelling community, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, illness or age. The somewhat disdainful language used by the columnist (and acknowledged as such by the newspaper in its submission) was precipitated by Mr Corr’s views on vaccination and had nothing to do with any of the categories found in Principle 8. Therefore, there is no breach of Principle 8.
14 April 2021