Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre and the Irish Daily Mail

By admin
Thursday, 23rd June 2016
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The Press Ombudsman has decided that sufficient action was offered to resolve a complaint by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) and Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre (Pavee Point) that the Irish Daily Mail breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) and Principle 8 (Prejudice) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.

The Irish Daily Mail on 8 April 2014 published an article, a commentary piece, under the heading “If Travellers want ethnic status, they ought to get rid of those slash hooks and settle”. The article was prompted by a vicious assault on a prominent sportsman which, it was claimed, had been                 “… relegated to the inside pages of most newspapers … “ .  The reason why the attack wasn’t news, the article stated, was that the person attacked was a Traveller and the attack had been carried out by  Travellers in what was described as having  “all the hallmarks of a Traveller feud”.   The article also expressed strong reservations about the granting of separate ethnic status to Travellers. Generalised points were made about Traveller criminality and what was described as a “self-perpetuating culture of victimhood and its guilt-ridden liberal enablers”.

ICCL and Pavee Point complained to the editor of the Irish Daily Mail that the article had breached Principle 8 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 … membership of the travelling community.

The ICCL complained about six specific statements in the article which, it claimed,  were in breach of Principle 8.    It  argued that  some of these statements made general references to members of the Traveller community as inherently violent, and others  made general references to the lifestyles of members of the Traveller  community as facilitating criminality and employed broad stereotypical characterisations of male members of the Traveller  community as inherently lazy, violent, drunk, misogynistic and domineering. 

Pavee Point argued that the article breached Principle 8 by using “multiple sweeping generalisations” about Travellers.     They also argued that a number of statements in the article breached Principle 1  including a statement that the granting of ethnic status to Travellers would elevate their rights above other citizens, and that Travellers settled down in houses willingly supplied by local authorities across the country.

The editor of the Irish Daily Mail responded to the criticism of the article by the ICCL and Pavee Point by saying that it was a “significant contribution to an important public debate” and that it conformed to the principle of freedom of expression found in the Irish Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. The editor offered a right of reply to both the ICCL and Pavee Point which would appear on the same page as the original article and would be between one thousand and twelve hundred words in length. The editor stated that the right of reply “can take issue with any aspect of the article and can highlight any other matters” the complainants believed relevant.  This offer of a right of reply was not acceptable to Pavee Point as it did “not compensate for the hurt and damage caused to the Traveller community” in the article. The ICCL also rejected the offer of a right of reply as in its view a“full apology and a retraction of the material concerned” was required.

As there was a Garda investigation into a possible breach of the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act, 1989 by the publication of the article, processing of the complaint had to be postponed until that investigation concluded.  When the Garda authorities confirmed that no prosecution was to take place the Office of the Press Ombudsman was able to begin its complaints process.

In its formal submission to the Office of the Press Ombudsman the editor of the Irish Daily Mail acknowledged that the publication of  “any powerful opinion may cause offence somewhere” and that the remedy of a right of reply, the publication of a “contrary opinion with equal prominence and absolute freedom of expression” (which, he said, was still open to the complainants) was the best method of dealing with such situations.

This renewal of the offer of a right of reply was put to the ICCL and Pavee Point during conciliation but was not accepted and the complaint was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.

 I believe the offer of a full right of reply with comparable prominence to the original article was sufficient to redress any possible breach of the Code of Practice.  This offer was made immediately by the newspaper and could have led to a publication within a short period of an article rebutting the statements complained about   in the original article.  The sooner a right of reply is published the more effective a remedy it is.  In this case the complainants felt that the offer of a right of reply was not adequate.  In deciding if the offer was sufficient to address the complaint I have to take into consideration the value of robust public debate and the offer to participate in that debate through a right of reply.  This protects the important principle of freedom of expression and at the same time allows those taking offence to participate in the debate.  The article published on 8 April 2014 did contain some generalisations about the Traveller community which certainly caused offence, but the best way of responding to this was to have accepted the offer of an immediate right of reply which was to be published on the same page as the original article. 

23 June 2016