A COMPLAINT BY Marriage Equality and BelongTo Youth Services that an article in the Irish Independent was in breach of Principle 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment) of the Code of Practice for Newspapers and Magazines has been upheld by the Press Ombudsman.
The 14 March 2012 article was headlined: “Every single human decision has a consequence – so remember that the next time you vote for someone’s rights”. It was about giving full marriage rights to same-sex couples.
The Ombudsman said that it reported as fact that:
- “The liberalisation of the laws against homosexual acts” had resulted in the “catastrophic reality” of “at least 250,000 deaths from AIDS”
- “The record of every society shows that boys without a strong stable male figure in their lives are an express train heading for trouble”
- Catholic adoption agencies have “closed rather than do something which they feel is immoral, which is to hand children over to homosexual couples”.
The newspaper responded that it did not accept that the article breached Principle 2 of the Code “because the writer was entitled to express his strongly held views, however controversial, under the principle of freedom of expression”.
It repeated a previous offer to publish a right of reply from the complainants, but this offer was declined.
The ombudsman said that its opinion is that, “in this case, the failure to distinguish adequately between fact and comment was sufficiently substantial to justify a decision that the article was in breach of Principle 2 of the Code”.
Marriage Equality and BelongTo Youth Services and Rory McCann, Steven McCall and Adam Long also complained about the article under Principle 8 (Prejudice) of the Code of Practice.
In response, the newspaper said that the article “was self-evidently an opinion piece containing views on a matter which was evidently divisive and controversial” and this was a breach of the Code.
It said that articles like this were designed to contribute to debates on controversial topics and it offered to publish a further article from Marriage Equality.
The Press Ombudsman said the breaches of Principle 2 above were capable of causing grave offence under Principle 8 and, for that reason, amounted to a breach of that Principle also.
They did not, however, breach that part of Principle 8 relating to the publication of statements which might act as an incitement to hatred.
Marriage Equality director Moninne Griffith welcomed the Press Ombudsman’s decision, saying:
Whether you are in favour or against marriage for same sex couples, all debate on this issue has to be based on fact, rather than on rumour, conjecture or unconfirmed reports. We all have to make sure that in modern Ireland the conversation about marriage equality is genuine and inclusive.
Executive director of BeLonG To Youth Services, Michael Barron said:
We welcome the Press Ombudsman’s decision to uphold our complaint on the grounds of not distinguishing fact from comment, and on the grounds of prejudice. No young person should be made suffer by having their identities stigmatised in the media. All our young people deserve to grow up safely in a country which respects them for who they are.”