The Irish Press Council has upheld a complaint made by Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, who claimed that the Irish Independent had taken comments he made in a speech in late 2014 out of context.
At a fund-raising event in New York, Adams spoke of the actions of Michael Collins in 1916 when he held the editor of the Irish Independent at gunpoint. In the subsequent report of the speech, Adams believed that the Irish Independent had failed to clarify that the comments were made in reference to a historical event and were not a threat to the paper’s current editor.
In his speech Adams said: “Mick Collins’ responds to the Independent’s criticism of the fight for freedom was to dispatch volunteers to the Independent’s offices. They held the editor at gunpoint and then dismantled and destroyed the entire printing machine! Now I’m obviously not advocating that.”
The comments were made regarding the media handling of the sex abuse scandal revolving around Sinn Féin late last year.
A BBC spotlight program had recently revealed the story of Mairia Cahill, who claimed she was raped by a suspected IRA member but was subsequently ordered to take a vow of silence when her claims were investigated in a “kangaroo court”.
Adams claimed that a “campaign of slander” had followed Sinn Féin since the story was released and his comments on Collins and the Independent editor were later repeated on his blog.
The Irish Independent report, published on November 7 2014, claimed that Adams had “openly joked about holding the editor of the Irish Independent at gunpoint” and the Louth TD faced much criticism from fellow Irish politicians and international organizations working for the protection of journalists.
Speaking in the Dáil, Tánaiste Joan Burton called on Adams to withdraw the “veiled threat.”
"The comments by Deputy Adams at last week’s fundraiser in New York about going to smash up printing presses is a barely concealed threat to the modern media of the consequences of interfering with ‘powerful men’,” she said.
"A free press is a cornerstone of our democracy. I would ask Deputy Adams to withdraw and apologise for these remarks and remove the veiled threat that has been made to the press in Ireland."
When contacted by Adams’ solicitors who stated that his comments had been taken “entirely out of context,” the Independent claimed that the report was “a fair and accurate account of [his] speech” and was “viewed by some as a veiled threat”.
The complaint went to the Press Ombudsman on May 7 where it was upheld. The Ombudsman believed that the phrasing of the report mislead readers and meant that they could “reasonably be expected to assume that [his] remarks as reported referred to the current editor of the Irish Independent and not to an event a century ago.”
The Independent appealed the Ombudsman’s decision and the appeal was heard and rejected at a meeting of the Press Council on July 3.
Adams’ legal team also believed that this report was just one incident in a campaign by the paper against Adams over the past few months.
The Press Ombudsman dismissed these claims stating that complaints could only be dealt with on specific individual articles.
In a statement following the decision, Adams said: “The constant stream of biased and offensive coverage of Sinn Féin by the Irish Independent, and of myself in particular, is unprecedented in the history of Irish newspapers. The decision of the Press Council to uphold the Press Ombudsman’s findings is another significant and positive development.”
The Sinn Féin leader also hoped that the decision would “further bolster the case for fairness and objectivity in political coverage in the Irish media.”
H/T: The Journal.ie