Decision of the Complaints Committee 01837-14 Adams v Belfast Telegraph
Summary of complaint
Summary of complaint
1. Gerry Adams TD complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Belfast Telegraph had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 4 (Harassment) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Adams Press complaint rejected”, published on 17 September 2014.
2. The article reported the outcome of a complaint he had previously made to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) in relation to an article previously published by the newspaper. His complaint had not been upheld by the PCC.
3. The complainant was particularly concerned about the inclusion in the article of a quotation from the PCC’s decision which referred to him as a “prominent British and Irish politician”. He said this was inaccurate, and that the newspaper would have recognised that this inaccuracy was both significant and offensive, given its knowledge of his cultural and political background. The decision to include the quotation was therefore, in the complainant’s view, an act of bad faith.
4. In light of this, the complainant argued that the newspaper was unable to rely on the fact that it was quoting directly from the PCC’s decision to avoid a breach of Clause 1. Instead, it had a duty to report an accurate description of him. He also contended that the quotation amounted to a pejorative reference to his nationality, and a breach of Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Code.
5. Finally, the complainant said that the newspaper was engaged in a concerted campaign to undermine him through what he considered to be wholly disproportionate coverage of his activities, of which the article under complaint formed a part. He considered that this had breached Clause 4 (Harassment) of the Code.
6. The newspaper said that the phrase complained about was a direct quotation from the PCC’s decision. It was entitled to report on the outcome of the complaint, and to quote from the ruling – particularly where the complainant had publicly criticised the article to which that ruling had related. Doing so did not raise any breach the Code; indeed, it argued that it would have been inappropriate, and potentially a breach of the Code, for the quotation to have been altered in any way.
7. The newspaper noted that the complainant is, and has been, the President of the second largest political party in Northern Ireland for 34 Years, was a Member of the UK Parliament for 14 of those years, and is now a sitting parliamentarian in the Republic of Ireland. His political activities would inevitably attract considerable attention in the press. The newspaper said it was not alone in covering his career, as well as other events over the preceding 24 months that had generated newsworthy stories about him. In so doing it was acting as a responsible publication; this could not raise a breach of Clause 4.
Relevant Code Provisions
8. Clause 1 (Accuracy)
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.
ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and - where appropriate - an apology published. In cases involving the Regulator, prominence should be agreed with the Regulator in advance.
Clause 4 (Harassment)
i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.
Clause 12 (Discrimination)
i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.
ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.
Findings of the Committee
9. The Committee recognised that the complainant had considerable concern about the manner in which he had been referred to in the decision on his complaint to the Press Complaints Commission.
10. Notwithstanding the complainant’s contention that the reference was deeply offensive to him, the newspaper’s decision to publish this direct quotation in the article did not represent a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article. The newspaper was entitled to publish a report of the outcome of the complaint, and to refer to the PCC’s findings. This included by quoting from the decision. There was no breach of Clause 1.
11. While recognising the particular political and cultural sensitivities raised by the complainant’s concerns, the Committee did not consider that publication of a direct quotation from a decision of the PCC could be said to amount to a pejorative reference for the purposes of Clause 12.
12. The Code does not include a requirement for balance and Clause 1 (iii) makes clear that publications are free to be partisan. The complainant’s contention, that coverage of his activity, as an elected representative, was disproportionate or sought to undermine him, did not raise a breach of Clause 4 of the Code.
13. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 18/11/2014
Date decision issued: 02/02/2015Back to ruling listing