733/2021 - Ms Catherine Kerins and the Irish Independent

By Gabrielle Collins
Tuesday, 6th April 2021
Filed under:

The Press Ombudsman has not upheld a complaint made by Ms Catherine Kerins that the Irish Independent breached Principle 4 (Respect for Rights) and Principle 9 (Children) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.

On 12 February 2021, the Irish Independent published an interview conducted via Zoom with a singer who had just published a new album. The report of the interview opened with a quotation from the singer “If at some point I seem to have Tourette’s don’t worry”. He went on to explain that his two dogs were in excitable mood and were in the room with him.

Ms Catherine Kerins complained that the comment about Tourette’s was “inappropriate” and gave a platform to the singer to “mock people with a disability for entertainment/humour”.

The features editor at the Irish Independent replied to Ms Kerins saying that she was really sorry about the comment about Tourette’s, that she was aware of the “hurt and pain that such remarks can cause”. The features editor said that at the time the interview was being prepared for publication it had struck her that the reference to Tourette’s was “insensitive” and had “the potential to cause offence”. However, she did not wish to distort the interview and had decided to leave the comment in. She offered Ms Kerins the opportunity to have a letter published in which Ms Kerins could outline her views about the inclusion of the reference in the interview to Tourette’s.

Ms Kerins did not accept the offer to submit a letter for publication as she said she found this response “inadequate”.

The editor of the Irish Independent in a submission to the Office of the Press Ombudsman acknowledged that “the language used by those in the public eye is important and, in situations like this, can present a dilemma, which must be carefully weighed”. The editor   repeated the offer to publish a letter from Ms Kerins. The offer, he said, still stands.

Ms Kerins responded to the newspaper’s submission stating that the offer of a letter did not deal with the matter. The issue, she said, “was making entertainment and jokes out of a disability”.

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

Principle 4 (Respect for Rights)

The relevant part of Principle 4 in this complaint is the requirement on the press not to publish matters based on malicious misrepresentation or unfounded accusations. The Irish Independent by publishing the remark about Tourette’s was accurately quoting the singer and cannot be found to have relied on malicious misrepresentation or unfounded accusations. Therefore, there is no breach of Principle 4.

Principle 9 (Children)

Principle 9 requires the press to take particular care in seeking and presenting information or comment about a child. There is no reference in the article to any particular child. The remark about Tourette’s may have been offensive,   but as it was not directed towards anyone it cannot be found to have breached Principle 9.

I have no doubt that Ms Kerins was upset by the reference to Tourette’s and felt that the newspaper might have given more consideration to the wisdom of including the reference. It is clear to me that the reference was made in a throw-away fashion and was not intended to upset anyone. However, the inclusion of the reference was not in breach of either of the two Principles cited in the complaint.

11 March 2021