Ms Madeline Halpin and Independent.ie
The Press Ombudsman has not upheld a complaint made by Ms Madeleine Halpin that Independent.ie breached Principle 8 (Prejudice) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.
On 1 February 2018 Independent.ie published an article on an upcoming rugby international between Ireland and France. The article included the following:
"Maybe France, cheese eating surrender monkeys that they have been for the last few years, might actually do something"
Ms Halpin made a complaint to the editor of Independent.ie stating that the expression “cheese eating surrender monkeys” although “aware of the provenance of this phrase in a satirical context… cannot be construed as anything other than racist”. She claimed that the article breached Principle 8 of the Code of Practice.
The editor defended the publication of the article stating that the use of the phrase which Ms Halpin objected to had to be read in context and that its usage was clearly “tongue-in-cheek”. The editor stated that “the point of the article as whole is that the French rugby team should not be underestimated despite Ireland’s recent good run of form against them”. He ended his defence with the following: “In a similar fashion, (the article’s) reference to the Phoney War of 1939-40 is an analogy, not a statement of fact or a serious historical comparison”. He offered to publish a letter from Ms Halpin outlining her concerns.
Ms Halpin informed the Office of the Press Ombudsman that she was not satisfied with the response she had received from the editor and requested that her formal complaint be accepted for consideration.
In his submission to the Office of the Press Ombudsman the editor of Independent.ie defended the article stating that the author of the opinion piece “often writes in a comical style for effect” and that the overall point of the article was that “it would be foolhardy to underestimate the French”. The editor stated that the author of the article had the highest regard for the French national team. He also stated that Ms Halpin had been offered a right of reply which was still available to her.
Ms Halpin responded by stating the comment used in the article was racist and “could not be dismissed under the guise of irony or tongue in cheek commentary for comic effect”.
As the complaint could not be resolved through conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
Taking into account the full article and allowing for the efforts of the author to write humorously I do not find that there was any breach of Principle 8. The use of the phrase “cheese eating surrender monkeys” was provocative but was clearly not intended to be taken literally. I do not believe there is any evidence to support the view that the article caused grave offence or stirred up hatred. The use of satire in commentary is fraught with the potential to cause offence. But this does not mean that satirical references cannot be included in articles if used in an appropriate manner. On this occasion the article fell within acceptable boundaries.
14 March 2018