1531/2023 - Mr Stephen Kerr and the Irish Examiner
The Press Ombudsman has decided not to uphold a complaint that the Irish Examiner breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) and Principle 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment) of the Press Council’s Code of Practice.
The complaint is about a long analysis piece headlined “How far-right propaganda in Ireland ‘weaponises legitimate social issues’” which was published online by the Irish Examiner in February 2023. The article includes the names of organisations and profiles of people, some of whom it identifies as far-right activists seeking to influence the public through protests and commentary on social media. Mr Stephen Kerr complained that the article breached Principle 1 and Principle 2 of the Code of Practice
Mr Kerr stated that he had emailed the newspaper, prior to making his complaint to the Office of the Press Ombudsman, but had received no response. The Irish Examiner has asked that it be noted that this email went into a spam folder, possibly because Mr Kerr had included a duck emoji in the from/to field. As a result, the newspaper said it did not have a chance to consider it and first heard of the complaint when contacted about it by the Office of the Press Ombudsman.
In his formal complaint Mr Kerr referred to the headline, stating that the Irish Examiner was “trying to make out” that he was “far-right” and that he had used “propaganda” that “weaponises legitimate social issues.” He said that none of this was true, accurate or factual. While stating that Principle 2 had been breached, Mr Kerr did not refer to any specific statements in this regard. However, in follow-up correspondence he complained of the presentation of a “subjective view” and of bias in what he called “the mainstream narrative” as instanced by this article. He questioned the newspaper’s choice of a left-wing trade unionist and a university lecturer on migration studies as experts.
In that correspondence he also said the newspaper had failed to prove the far-right existed in Ireland, and that even if it did exist, the newspaper had not shown that he was linked to it. He challenged the accuracy of stating, as the newspaper did, that he had “strong views about vaccination”. He also challenged the claim that he organises meetings in the plural, stating that he had organised one meeting. He disputed the newspaper’s rebuttal of his claim that migrants coming into Ireland were unvetted.
Mr Kerr described himself as a “citizen journalist” and said the “mainstream media” was now painting views that would have formerly been seen as “mildly conservative, centre or centre right” as “far right or even extremist.”
The Irish Examiner rejected the contention that it had breached the Code of Practice. It stood over the article as “a fair and accurate analysis of the prevalence or otherwise of far-right views and activity in Ireland” and said the issues it dealt with were “of urgent and obvious public interest”. It said the article was “thoroughly researched” and that it did not report comment as fact. The newspaper provided the Press Ombudsman with links to posts and videos on social media and the website of the Irish Inquiry to demonstrate how they arrived at their assessment of Mr Kerr’s views on issues covered in the article and raised by him in his complaint.
The Press Ombudsman has read and considered the extensive documentation provided by both the complainant and the newspaper and taking account of all this material, she has found no evidence that either Principle 1 or Principle 2 of the Code of Practice were breached in the Irish Examiner article.
It should be noted that while Mr Kerr makes several references to his father in relation to the article, Mr Kerr senior has not added his name to the complaint so these cannot be considered.
The Irish Examiner has provided links to what it referred to as a representative sample of material it used in its research for the article, mostly drawn from the social media accounts of the Irish Inquiry, which provides Mr Kerr with a platform.
The material includes posts on opposition to Covid vaccination, references to “Big Pharma” and one to its “paid off media accomplices”. There is material about “uncontrolled mass immigration” and a claim that “the government’s open borders policy has utterly failed.” People are told that “it’s time to get organised” and warned that they will not be protected by politicians or the police. One post claims that “journalists have gotten away with murder” and two journalists are identified by their Twitter handles. Readers of the Irish Inquiry are urged: “When you see them, don’t walk on by!”
The Press Ombudsman finds that the Irish Examiner is entitled to characterise some of the material used in its research as far-right propaganda. She notes that Mr Kerr is not one of those described by the Irish Examiner as a far-right activist.
The Press Ombudsman finds that the material provided by the newspaper supports the statement in the article that Mr Kerr has strong views on vaccination. She also finds from reviewing the material provided that it is reasonable to assume that he is involved in organising meetings rather than just one meeting. The Press Ombudsman finds no evidence of a breach of Principle 1 of the Code.
Principle 2 requires that comment, conjecture, rumour, and unconfirmed reports shall not be reported as if they were fact. The Press Ombudsman finds that the Irish Examiner article is an analysis of issues based on substantial research and the evidence that emerges. The trade unionist quoted at the beginning of the article has relevant experience on which to base his views, and the lecturer who is quoted at the end of the article, and in the headline, is appropriately qualified to speak about the issues raised. The Press Ombudsman finds no evidence of a breach of Principle 2 of the Code.
18 May 2023
The decision was appealed to the Press Council of Ireland.