Mens Voices Ireland and Sunday Business Post
The Press Ombudsman has not upheld a complaint made by Mr William Mongey on behalf of Men’s Voices Ireland that The Sunday Business Post breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy), Principle 4 (Respect for Rights) and Principle 8 (Prejudice) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.
On 5 November 2017 The Sunday Business Post published in its magazine supplement an opinion column on an upcoming meeting titled “Challenging Misandry” organised by Men’s Voices Ireland (an organisation which addresses “injustices experienced by men and boys in our society”).
Men’s Voices Ireland wrote to the editor of The Sunday Business Post complaining that the article gave a “biased and inaccurate” description of the meeting. The organisation said the article “seemed to have as its main purpose the rubbishing and belittling of men”. It further complained that the image used to illustrate the article (a photograph of a woman standing on a man spread-eagled on the floor) “set the tone of the article as one of hatred of men”. It stated that the meeting had not been an attack on women’s rights but had addressed the issues of male victims of domestic violence, male suicide and homelessness, bias in court decisions against men and boys’ underperformance at school. The organisation complained that the newspaper had breached Principles 1, 4 and 8 of the Code of Practice.
The editor of The Sunday Business Post in a submission to the Office of the Press Ombudsman defended the article. He stated that he had reviewed the complaint and the article. He stood over the article “which was clearly the opinion of a columnist”. He did not believe that the article had breached any Principle of the Code of Practice.
As the complaint could not be resolved by conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
The article that led to this complaint was clearly an opinion column. The author in her opening paragraph described herself as “female, opinionated and feminist”. Any reader of the article could have had no doubt that the author was setting out her personal views on the meeting. She acknowledged that it was “entirely possible that many of the speakers (at the meeting) have issues worth publicly airing” and that there are “occasions when feminists veer into choppy waters”. However, she argued that it was men who held predominant power in society and that the event didn’t “feel like a neutral day-long discussion that offers balance”. The author said that the event felt to her like a “gendered attack on women and women’s rights”.
In not upholding this complaint I am conscious of the Preamble to the Code of Practice which states that the “freedom to publish is vital to the right of the people to be informed. This freedom includes the right of the press to publish what it considers to be news, without fear or favour, and the right to comment on it”. Of course, this right to comment is not unlimited, any comment must not breach any of the Principles of the Code of Practice.
Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy)
There is no evidence of any inaccuracy in the article published by The Sunday Business Post. Men’s Voices Ireland and the author of the opinion column clearly disagree about aspects of gender-based injustices, but what the article contained were interpretations about these differences rather than the facts themselves.
Principle 4 (Respect for Rights)
Men’s Voices Ireland argued that the requirement found in Principle 4 that the “press shall not knowingly publish matter based on malicious misrepresentation or unfounded accusations and must take reasonable care in checking facts before publication” had been breached. It said that the meeting was not an attack on women and women’s rights. However, the author of the article claimed that the meeting felt to her as an attack on women’s rights and that as a feminist she would feel uncomfortable attending. This was her interpretation of the significance of the meeting and readers of the column would have understood this. Given this, there was no breach of Principle 4.
Principle 8 (Prejudice)
Men’s Voices Ireland argued that the article gendered prejudice against men and therefore breached Principle 8. I do not accept that the article was prejudicial towards men. It contained the author’s personal views on the balance of injustice in society between men and women. It did not deny that men suffer injustice on occasions, but that looking at society in general there is more injustice towards women than men. This is simply the opinion of the columnist and does not breach this Principle.
The image chosen to illustrate the article was provocative, but the use of an arresting image as a means of getting attention is quite common. In this instance the image chosen did not breach Principle 8 as it simply illustrated one view of the relationship between men and women.
8 February 2018
The Complainant appealed against the decision of the Press Ombudsman to the Press Council of Ireland.
You can read the Decision of the Press Council here