independent

Wednesday 16 April 2014

It's a sad day when to speak your mind is to risk the wrath of the law and misleading reports

What follows is even more boring than usual, but my good name is my good name, and the record has to be set straight.

Last July, I wrote a column which I knew would get me into trouble. It was headlined, 'Africa has given the world nothing but AIDS'. (I did not write the headline). My overall gist was that the populations of African countries had more than doubled in the past quarter of a century. Aid has corrupted the continent. It is time to stop. Our liberal establishment has created a layer of speech-and-thought enforcement bodies to limit the range of public dialogue. Some now moved into action. The National Migrant Council reported me to An Garda Siochana, demanding a criminal prosecution for incitement to hatred, with a no-jury court, and four years imprisonment the possible outcome. Hans Zomer of Dochas reported me to the National Press Council, on numerous grounds.

It is a sad day indeed when to speak your mind is to risk the wrath of the law, aided by the State-backed auxiliary bodies of intellectual conformism: but such are the times we live in.

Needless to say, these threats to freedom of speech were not condemned by the National Union of Journalists, or the writers' union PEN, or our Nobel Laureate, and proud defender of the intellectual freedom of writers, elsewhere anyway, Seamus Heaney. Possibly because the name 'Kevin Myers' was involved.

The Garda investigation fell apart amid a great deal of embarrassment from the unfortunate investigating officers, who were thereby distracted from other, more important duties.

But Zomer's complaints went to the full Press Council. He alleged that my article had violated various principles of the Council Charter - namely, Accuracy, Fairness and Honesty, Respect for Rights and finally, Incitement to Hatred.

These complaints were mostly frivolous. The only important one that mattered to me was the last: Incitement to Hatred. This is a very serious matter, for hatred is a poison that knows no bounds. Had I been found guilty of intending to incite hatred, my status as a journalist would have been seriously, and probably fatally, damaged. (Not that my personal ruin would have mattered much to our liberal-left friends).

Now, though I fully accept the good intentions of the individual members of the Press Council, I regard its brief as preposterous and its terms fatuous. Included in its general category of "hatred" is the charge of "causing offence". Well, if journalists don't regularly cause someone or other offence, then we're not doing our job. Moreover, I knew that I was going to offend some of our thinner-skinned Africans, who no doubt would maintain that Somalia is Sweden, and Zimbabwe is Switzerland. Which is, of course, the reason they're living here.

The full Press Council met, and following lengthy submissions from the "independent" legal team, it rejected most of Zomer's complaints -- in particular, the allegations that I had caused hatred, or that I had intended to do so. However, my article was deemed to be offensive to many Africans (though I don't know how many Africans the Press Council spoke to before it reached this conclusion). For me, it was a very satisfactory outcome.

'The Irish Times' carried the headline the next day: 'Press Council upholds complaint against Myers article'. The main story, by its legal correspondent Carol Coulter, then read: "The Press Council of Ireland has upheld a complaint against the Irish Independent that an article by its columnist Kevin Myers breached its Code of Practice relating to incitement to hatred."

I repeat: I had in fact been cleared of any charge relating to incitement to hatred. But any mention of that actual acquittal on these serious hate-charges came in the penultimate sentence, after 625 words of a 661-word report, and long after that opening declaration that I had, effectively, been found guilty of incitement.

This shocking distortion of the truth gave me no choice but to defend myself in this newspaper. This, incredibly, triggered a complaint to the Press Council against me by the real culprit of this affair -- who else, but Coulter.

I don't believe in Press Councils, but that silly woman had now given me no choice, and so I lodged a complaint with the Council against her grossly inaccurate reporting on the Council's own findings. My complaint was upheld: hers against me, which ironically had triggered my complaint, was dismissed.

'The Irish Times' is compelled to report Press Council's findings that relate to it. But whereas Coulter had freely used my name when misreporting the Council's findings on my initial column, 'The Irish Times' report on the Press Council's vindication of my good name never once identified her as the author of a story about me which the Press Council described as "inadequate" and "seriously misleading". Nor did 'The Irish Times' report that Coulter's complaint about me to the Press Council had been dismissed out of hand.

Once upon a time, 'The Irish Times', the proud newspaper of record, depended on the four Ws: Who, What, Where and When. No longer, apparently, when it comes to reporting criticisms of one of their own, for misreporting findings about one of their former-own.

kmyers@independent.ie

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