Press Ombudsman Upholds Prejudice Complaint

Pavee Point is delighted today to highlight the decision by the Press Ombudsman to uphold a complaint made by Shane O Curry of ENAR that a column by Mr Ian O Doherty of the Irish Independent breached Principle 8 (Prejudice) of the Code of Practice for Newspapers and Magazines.

We feel strongly that this was the correct decision and we are further pleased that a right of reply article was deemed unacceptable and look forward to seeing the results of this upheld complaint.

“The Press Ombudsman has decided to uphold a complaint made by Mr Shane OCurry, Director of European Network Against Racism Ireland (ENAR),  that an article in the Irish Independent on 30 September 2013 was a breach of Principle 8 (Prejudice) of the Code of Practice for Newspapers and Magazines.

Mr O Curry complained  that the article, entitled  “Begging – but I thought it was freedom of expression?” was in breach of  Principle 8 of the  Code because it advocated  the expulsion of all unemployed Roma people from Ireland, because it  stated that Roma beggars formed “a parasitic, ethnic underclass who look on this country as a giant stupid cow to be milked whenever they see fit,” and it asserted that many locals had “found themselves surrounded by beggars – all of whom were Roma  – and then had their belongings filched.”

The newspaper said that the article commented honestly and legitimately upon a significant matter of public interest, being the phenomenon of aggressive beggars in Dublin and, insofar as it referred to members of the Roma community, did so on the basis of the writer’s personal experience. It said that the article’s comments were made on the basis of what it said were the identified criminal anti-social behaviour of some members of the Roma community, and not on the basis of their membership of that community. It offered the complainant the opportunity to write, subject to the usual editorial constraints, an article of equivalent length and prominence to the article about which he had complained.

Mr OCurry said that this offer was not acceptable because it was not accompanied by any apology for, and a retraction of, the original article.

The Press Ombudsman noted that the article complained of contained, as well as one instance of the author’s personal experience, a number of emphatic generalisations about beggars of Roma origin that, in his opinion, were clearly capable of or intended to cause grave offence under Principle 8 to members of the Roma community, regardless of the newspaper’s argument that they were not intended to apply to the Roma community as a whole. Also, the article’s linking of complaints about the behaviour of members of the Roma community with a parenthetical comment about people who were described as ‘indigenous junkies’ did little to support the  newspaper’s contention that the article was not primarily about those on whose behalf the complaint had been made.

While the offer of a right of reply can in certain circumstances be acceptable as a sufficient response to an alleged breach of the Code of Practice,   the opinion of the Press Ombudsman is that it is not an appropriate or adequate response to this particular complaint under Principle 8.”