A Man and Buzz.ie
The Press Ombudsman has not upheld a complaint made by a man that Buzz.ie breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy), Principle 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment), Principle 3 (Fair Procedures and Honesty), Principle 4 (Respect for Rights), Principle 5 (Privacy) and Principle 8 (Prejudice) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.
In October 2017 Buzz.ie published a report that an independent Senator, who had spoken in favour of repealing the Eight Amendment to the Constitution had received a package in the post which included a framed image of Judas accompanying a letter threatening to have her excommunicated from the Catholic Church. The Senator posted her response to the letter online. As a result, she received a letter from the complainant. The report in Buzz.ie included the wording of the letter the Senator had received. The report referred to the letter as “incredibly disturbing”.
The complainant wrote to Buzz.ie but did not receive a reply.
The complainant submitted a complaint to the Office of the Press Ombudsman claiming that the report in Buzz.ie breached Principles 1,2,3,4,5 and 8 of the Code of Practice. He objected to the inclusion of a reference to “hate mail” (which appeared in the link to the article but did not appear in the article itself). He stated that he reserved the “right as The Melchizedek Priest to perform (his) divine duties without (his) work being referred to as hate mail”. He further objected to his letter being described as “incredibly disturbing”. He also objected to the article stating that he was “claiming to be a Priest” saying that Buzz.ie “has no evidence that (he is) not … The Melchizedek Priest”.
The editor of Buzz.ie made a submission to the Office of the Press Ombudsman stating that the complaint had no merit and did not breach any Principle of the Code of Practice. He described the article as a “straightforward report” which had included the entire letter the complainant had sent to the Senator. The editor stated that the complainant “doesn’t fit the traditional definition of a priest ordained by holy orders”.
The complainant responded to the editor’s submission objecting to the editor giving him the title “Mister” as the complaint had been submitted under the title “Father … High Priest Divine Order of Melchizedek”. He stated that he had never claimed to be a “traditional” priest and that the reference to him as “so-called” priest was “the most disgusting derogatory disrespectful statement any human has directly stated about (him)”. He stated there is “no correlation between the Melchizedek priesthood and any other priesthood that exists on planet earth, never was, never will be and to draw comparisons is to exude holy ignorance”. He stated that the editor was “not qualified to make such satanic non-holy Godless statements”.
As the complaint could not be resolved by conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
There is no basis to uphold this complaint. The report in Buzz.ie was a short factual account of what had happened. I can find no evidence in the report of any inaccuracy which would allow the complaint to be upheld on the basis of a breach of requirements in regard to truth and accuracy (Principle1).
Equally there is no breach of Principle 2, the requirement to distinguish between fact and comment.
There is no evidence that the requirement found in Principle 3 for the press to strive at all times for fair procedures and honesty in the publication of news was breached in the report.
Principle 4 requires that the press shall not knowingly publish material based on malicious misrepresentation or unfounded accusations. I can find no malicious misrepresentations or unfounded accusations in what was an extremely short report on the letter to the Senator. Principle 4 also requires that reasonable care must be taken in checking facts before publication. There is nothing in the report which suggests that the magazine did not take care in the publication of the report.
Principle 5 refers to privacy. The complainant wrote a letter to a public representative which included “Excommunication is the least of your worries sweetheart and I have my eyes on you and yours”. People who write in such a manner to public representatives cannot expect their correspondence to remain private. Indeed, a strong case can be made that it is in the public interest for public representatives to publish correspondence of this nature when they receive it.
Finally, to uphold a claim that Principle 8 had been breached it would be necessary for a complainant to demonstrate that the press published material intended to or likely to cause grave offence or stir up hatred against an individual on the basis of a number of grounds. There is nothing in the report to support a claim that the article stirred up hatred or caused grave offence and therefore there is no breach of Principle 8.
The complainant raised the issue of being given the title “Mister” rather than “Father” in the submission by Buzz.ie to the Office of the Press Ombudsman. As this title was not used in the published report it is not a relevant consideration in this decision.
31 January 2018
Note: The complainant has exercised his right under data protection legislation for the decision to be reported in an anonymous manner.