1438/2022 - Complainant and the Irish Examiner

By admin
Friday, 17th February 2023
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The Press Ombudsman decided not to uphold a complaint made about an article published online by the Irish Examiner on 25 August 2022 in its opinion section.  The complainant asserted his right to anonymity.

The article is headlined “Does Ireland have a problem with right-wing extremism?”.  Its author takes issue with a report from the US based Global Project Against Hate and Extremism (GPAHE), claiming that “for a project designed to highlight disinformation it’s full of disinformation”.  He claims its thrust is “to amplify, conflate, and basically big-up the threat of far- right extremism” in Ireland.  He describes this as “deeply dishonest” and refers to the “smearing” of organisations.  He considers some of the groups named in the report, ridicules the idea that they have significant political purchase, and concludes that while in Ireland such extremism “certainly exists” it is “confined largely to online echo chambers and a limited number of headbangers”.

The complainant alleged that the article breached three Principles of the Press Council’s Code of Practice: Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy), Principle 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment), and Principle 8 (Prejudice.) 

He said the article contained “numerous factual errors and inaccuracies”.  He provided a range of links and references which in his opinion showed that the journalist had overlooked evidence.  He accused the journalist of bias and said that the article “appears to mitigate racial hatred”.  Having been a source with whom the journalist spoke while researching the article, he said he believed the author “may be referring to me” when he used the term “self-styled fascist hunters”.

The Irish Examiner denied that any of the cited Principles had been breached.  It said the article was clearly an opinion piece, that it was written by an experienced and credible journalist, and that the piece legitimately asked “essential questions” about the impact and relevance of the groups named in the GPAHE report.  It said it was the columnist’s role to ask questions and to make observations about matters of importance.

The Press Ombudsman’s decision is as follows:

Principle 1 of the Code, which requires that the press must at all times strive for truth and accuracy, underlies all the other Principles, including Principle 2, which affirms the press’s entitlement “to advocate strongly its own views on topics”, while also asserting that comment must not be reported as if it was fact.

The complainant cited the journalist’s statement that the report is “full of disinformation” as the first evidence of “factual errors and inaccuracies”.  The Press Ombudsman has not read the GPAHE report and is not in a position therefore to have a view on whether or not it includes material that could be described as false and misleading.   But had she, her view would in any case be an opinion, supportive of or contrary to the opinion expressed by the columnist.  Defining far right extremism is highly contentious.  The author of this opinion piece uses hyperbole to dramatize his arguments, but the Press Ombudsman finds that the complainant provides no evidence of an absence of truth or accuracy. There is therefore no breach of Principle 1.

The complainant provided a series of what were essentially his own strong opinions about groups referenced in the Irish Examiner article, citing perceived friendships and associations between people defined by him as racists and fascists.  He asserted that he provided evidence to the journalist which was ignored. In its response to the complaint the Irish Examiner argued that it is normal practice for a journalist to conduct research while shaping their opinion, and then make decisions about which parts of it are most relevant.  The Press Ombudsman agrees, provided of course that those decisions do not lead to any breach of the Code.  The material provided by the complainant, detailing his account of his interactions with the journalist, does not substantiate his claim that the Code was breached through its omission.

The article is clearly positioned in the online newspaper as an opinion column.  It opens with commentary on a news story in another paper, before tackling the GPAHE report using strong language, a satirical tone and broad strokes.  The arguments made could be disputed – newspapers carry opinion pieces precisely in order to provoke debate.  Comment is not reported as fact. The article does not breach Principle 2.

The complainant suggested Principle 8 of the Code “may” have been broken.  However, it is obvious from the start of the article that its author opposes right wing extremism and those who promote “hate agendas”.  Indeed, one of his objections to the GPAHE report is that he considers that it amplifies the voices of “a limited number of headbangers.”  There is no breach of Principle 8.

11 November 2022