A Man and Hot Press
The Press Ombudsman has not upheld a complaint made by a man that Hot Press breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy), Principle 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment), Principle 3 (Fair Procedures and Honesty), Principle 4 (Respect for Rights), Principle 5 (Privacy) and Principle 8 (Prejudice) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.
In October 2017 Hot Press published in its online edition a report that an independent Senator, who had spoken in favour of repealing the Eight Amendment to the Constitution, had received a letter (from the complainant) which the magazine described as containing an “outrageous threat”.
The complainant submitted a complaint to the Office of the Press Ombudsman. He stated that he had made no threat to the Senator and that Hot Press was incorrect to publish that he had made an “outrageous threat” against the Senator. He went on to say “I state that it was not a threatening letter. It was a letter from the Melchizedek Priest that contained Holy truths that the Senator didn’t like to hear which angered her so she took her anger out on Facebook and Twitter. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” He went on to complain that the magazine hadn’t contacted him to verify “anything in the story”. He requested the magazine to publish an apology. As part of his complaint the man submitted documents from court cases he had initiated against the President of Ireland, the Attorney General and others. He drew the office of the Press Ombudsman’s attention in particular to point 76 of an affidavit which referred to his arguments that he should be granted Civil legal aid in Judicial review proceedings. He clarified that his complaint was that Hot Press had breached Principles 1,2,3,4,5 and 8 of the Code of Practice.
In a submission to the Office of the Press Ombudsman in response to the complaint the editor of Hot Press stated the report “contained a verbatim account of what was said in the letter, which was sent by (the complainant) to the Senator. The references made in the letter in the article were truthful and accurate. We do not believe that it breached the Code of Practice.”
The complainant responded to the editor’s defence of his magazine’s report by stating that the report had not been a verbatim report as it had not included point 76 (referred to above) and he repeated this claim that he had not threatened the Senator in his letter. He also objected to the editor using the title “Mister” when referring to him, rather than “Father” when he was communicating in his official capacity as High Priest, Divine Order of Melchizedek.
As the complaint could not be resolved by conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
I am not upholding this complaint. Given the sentiments expressed in the letter the magazine’s characterisation of the letter as “threatening” is not inaccurate. The letter included amongst other threats the following “Excommunication is the least of your worries, sweetheart, and I have my eyes on you and yours”. In my view this inclusion justifies the use of the expression “outrageous threat” in the Hot Press report.
In regard to the man’s claim that the magazine should have contacted him in advance of publication as I cannot find anything inaccurate in the article I can see no breach of the requirement that the press should take reasonable care in checking facts before publication.
In regard to his claim that point 76 of his affidavit should have been included in the report I cannot find any relevance in point 76 to anything to do with any controversy surrounding his letter to the Senator and therefore conclude that this has no bearing on the complaint.
The final point of the complaint refers to the failure of the editor to use the title “Father” in his correspondence. This has nothing to do with the subject of the complaint under consideration, which is the report published in October 2017.
Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy)
There is no breach of Principle 1 as there is no inaccuracy in the Hot Press report.
Principle 2 (Distinguishing fact and Comment)
There is no failure in the article to distinguish fact and comment. The use of the words “outrageous threat” is an acceptable characterisation of the letter sent to the Senator and is not a comment.
Principle 3 (Fair Procedures and Honesty)
Hot Press followed fair procedures and honesty in the manner it published the report on the letter sent to the Senator.
Principle 4 (Respect for Rights)
Principle 4 recognises that everyone has constitutional protection for his or her good name. As everything Hot Press published was accurate and not based on malicious misrepresentation or unfounded accusations the magazine was justified in publishing its report. Any diminution in the complainant’s reputation, if such happened, was as a direct result of the letter he sent to a public representative.
Principle 5 (Privacy)
The complainant wrote a threatening letter to a public representative. People who write in such a manner to public representatives cannot expect their correspondence to remain private. There was no breach of Principle 5 in the magazine’s report.
Principle 8 (Prejudice)
There is no evidence that Hot Press published anything intended to or likely to cause grave offence or stir up hatred against an individual on the basis of race, religion, nationality, colour, ethnic origin, membership of the travelling community, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, illness or age. Hot Press published the contents of a letter sent to a public representative and the comments of that representative. That is all. There is nothing in the report which is likely to cause grave offence or stir up hatred on the grounds stated in the Principle.
31 January 2018
Note: The complainant has exercised his right under data protection legislation for the decision to be reported in an anonymous manner.