443/2020 - A Complainant and The Irish Times
The Press Ombudsman has not upheld a complaint that The Irish Times breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy), Principle 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment), Principle 3 (Fair Procedures and Honesty), Principle 4 (Respect for Rights) and Principle 8 (Prejudice) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.
On 5 June 2020 The Irish Times published a review column on some recent television programmes. The headline on the column was “The Gaeltacht was basically a sex camp established by Éamon de Valera”. The headline referred to a light-hearted comparison between a reality television series “First Dates Hotel” and the experience of Irish teenagers going to Gaeltacht summer schools.
The complainant wrote to the editor expressing her disgust at what she described as an abusive and downgrading attack on the Irish College and “education of the first language of Ireland”. She requested the editor to correct and withdraw the incorrect accusations and publish an apology.
The Irish Times defended the column which it characterised as humour by the writer and said that it was not to be taken “seriously at all”. The newspaper went on to say that it strongly supported the Irish language and that it regretted that the humour in the articled was misinterpreted.
The complainant was not satisfied with the response of The Irish Times and complained to the Office of the Press Ombudsman that the column had breached Principles 1, 2, 3, 4 and 8 of the Code of Practice. In its formal response to the Office The Irish Times repeated that the writer of the article was renowned for his writing style and for his use of wit and humour and invited the complainant to submit a letter for favour of publication wherein she could express her views on the column. The complainant turned down the offer.
As the complaint could not be resolved by conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
This Principle requires the press to strive for truth and accuracy. It is my view that readers of the column would have understood the satirical nature of the writing and would not have taken the references to Irish colleges literally. I can find no breach of Principle 1
This Principle requires the press to distinguish between fact and comment. Given the nature of satirical writing readers would not have taken literally the content of the column and would have understood that the exaggerated claims made in the column which are the subject of this complaint were not presented as fact. I can find no breach of Principle 2.
The complainant stated that this Principle had been breached as the column made “false misleading accusations against well run language schools in the Gaeltacht”. As the column was an example of satirical writing and not to be taken literally I could find no misleading accusations in the column and therefore there was no breach of Principle 3.
Principle 4 provides protection for people’s good names. As the column was not to be taken literally the reputation of Irish colleges was not undermined by the publication of the column. There is no breach of Principle 4. The complainant under this Principle pointed out that Éamon de Valera was not the founder of Irish Colleges. I fully accept that this is the case, but readers were not taking the reference to Éamon de Valera literally and therefore I can find no breach of this Principle.
Principle 8 requires the press to avoid publishing material intended to or likely to cause grave offence or stir up hatred against an individual or group on the basis of their race …nationality… The complainant argued that the column stirred up hatred against her on the basis of her language. I can find no evidence in the column of any stirring up of hatred in the column. As said previously it was a light-hearted use of humour and not to be taken literally. There was no breach of Principle 8
6 July 2020
The complainant appealed the Press Ombudsman’s decision to the Press Council of Ireland on the grounds that significant new information was available that could not have been made available to the Press Ombudsman before making his decision.
At its meeting on 4 September 2020 the Press Council decided to reject the appeal because it did not contain sufficient evidence to support the grounds on which it was submitted.