A man and the 'Sunday Independent' - the Press Ombudsman's ruling
The Press Ombudsman has not upheld a complaint that the Sunday Independent breached Principle 8 (Prejudice) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.
On May 27, 2018 in the aftermath of the referendum on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, the Sunday Independent published a cartoon. The subject matter of the cartoon was a surgeon in an operating theatre removing a set of rosary beads from a female patient in a hospital bed. The caption accompanying the cartoon read "The 'rosarectomy'…" with the surgeon saying to a nurse "mission accomplished… obstruction removed…"
A man complained to the editor of the Sunday Independent that the cartoon was "deeply offensive to anyone of Catholic faith and… in direct contravention of Principle No. 8 of the Press Council's standards". He said the cartoon was plainly designed to humiliate and leave open to ridicule the religious beliefs and practices of all Roman Catholics and sought a public apology from the newspaper.
The Sunday Independent replied stating that there had been no intention to cause any offence by the cartoon and apologised for any hurt it caused. The newspaper pointed out that it had published a "large selection" of letters on June 3 on the subject of the cartoon, including a letter from the cartoonist who had offered his "sincere apologies to any reader who had taken offence". He suggested that the complainant might consider submitting a letter for publication in which he could outline his views on the publication of the cartoon.
The man made a formal complaint to the Office of the Press Ombudsman stating that the "cartoon represents an unwarranted attack upon the religious beliefs and practices of Catholics" and reiterated his belief that its publication breached Principle 8 of the Code. He said that the publication of letters by the newspaper failed to address the fact that the publication of the cartoon was an editorial one and that a personal apology to him was not adequate as the insult went beyond one individual.
In a submission to the Office of the Press Ombudsman the editor of the Sunday Independent stated that "the cartoon is clearly a reference to the well-known phrase 'keep your rosaries off our ovaries' - which has been used during every referendum linked to abortion". He went on to state "This has become a shorthand for the conflict between a faith-based view of the issue and a woman's-rights view of the issue". He described the cartoon as "a visual comment on a fundamental change in Irish life". He repeated his offer to publish a letter from the complainant.
The man responded that he stood by the point he made in his original complaint - that the cartoon was "insulting, inflammatory, insensitive and reeked of petty triumphalism". He said he accepted that the paper was entitled to support a certain view but that it was not entitled to do so at the expense of decency and reasonable regard for the feeling of all. He sought a "public acknowledgement of the offence caused by… (the) editorial decision to publish this cartoon".
The editor responded to the request by stating that he and his newspaper "have clearly publicly recognised, acknowledged and recorded the offence taken by some readers at the cartoon by the publication of many letters in relation to it".
The man in response reiterated his view that the publication of the cartoon breached Principle 8 of the Code of Practice, was insulting to women and was ill-judged and insensitive. He said that as the editor was unwilling to publish something that would indicate his awareness and regret for the insult the cartoon caused to ordinary people, he asked for the Press Ombudsman to decide on the matter.
As the complaint could not be resolved by conciliation, it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
Principle 8 of the Code of Practice states:
The press shall not publish material intended or likely to cause grave offence or stir up hatred against an individual or group on the basis of their… religion… A cartoon published in a newspaper or magazine is often a commentary on some aspect of current public controversy. It uses humour as a means of making observations about issues and by its nature often involves simplification and caricature to illustrate people and situations. It is frequently satirical and can be designed to shock, to be provocative and to exaggerate. Its purpose is to entertain and to provide insight into the subject matter of public debate.
There is no doubt that the cartoon offended some people. However, there is a degree of licence available to cartoons to engage in ridicule, satire and irony which is not available to other forms of journalism. For this reason, any offence caused by the cartoon did not breach Principle 8 of the Code of Practice.