A Student and Pirhana

By admin
Wednesday, 14th November 2018
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The Press Ombudsman has not upheld a complaint made by a student that Piranha breached Principle 8 (Prejudice) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.

Piranha is a student magazine published in Trinity College Dublin. In its Autumn 2018 edition it published an article under the heading “What’s Hot/What’s Not”. The article was a comedy piece that listed three “Hot” items. One of these was titled “Gays”.

A Trinity College student complained to the Office of the Press Ombudsman that the article breached Principle 8 (Prejudice) of the Code of Practice. This states:

The press shall not publish material intended or likely to cause grave offence or stir up hatred against an individual or group on the basis of their … sexual orientation …

The student, a member of the LGBTQ community, said he had many LGBTQ friends and relatives and that he found  the article to be  “not only personally offensive but deeply damaging to those of us who have suffered physical and mental abuse at the hands of homophobic bullies.” He complained about the “offensive slurs and multiple references to violence against LGBTQ people”.

The editor responded by saying “The article is about homophobia. It is not intended to be homophobic. It, as satire often does, shines a light on the realities of growing up gay in Ireland through brutal visceral language … the Piranha is a satire paper written and edited by members of the Queer community and we feel it would be disingenuous for us not to write honest comedy about our own experiences of bullying growing up and thriving within Trinity”.

The complainant responded to the editor’s defence of Piranha by saying it was not clear that the magazine was “critiquing … the culture of homophobia and violence towards LGBTQ people. The article in question engages in vulgar slurs and tired stereotypes of weak, effeminate gay men …”

As the complaint could not be resolved by conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.

The article did include language which, had the purpose of the author been hostile towards the LGBTQ community, might have been judged to have crossed the line in terms of causing grave offence against an identifiable group. However, given that the author included “Gay” as one of the “Hot” attributes to students, it is difficult to conclude that the author’s intentions were hostile towards LGBTQ people. Rather the article has to be seen as a somewhat ham-fisted attempt at satirical humour. That the article might be judged as not successful as a humorous piece is not relevant. The greatest licence available to journalists is in the writing of satire. Most people reading satire apply wide margins to their tolerance of language and opinions which might be regarded as unacceptable in mainstream journalism. For these reasons the complaint is not upheld. 

26 October 2018

Note: The complainant has exercised his right under Data Protection legislation to have this decision reported without his identity being disclosed.