FATHER CARL TELFORD AGAINST THE PRESS

Case Number: 2078

Council Meeting: JUNE 2009

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Press

Ruling Categories: Discrimination
Cartoons
Accuracy

The Press Council does not uphold the complaint of Father Carl Telford about two syndicated feature articles entitled “How a Pope aided Aids” and “Hope for pro-choice faithful” published in The Press newspaper on March 19, 2009. It also does not uphold the complaint made about the cartoon and editorial published the following day.
Background
The two feature articles were obtained from The Times (London). They were part of a package which included a news report which was published on the same day under the headline “The Pope’s condom comments sicken campaigners”.
The Complaint
Fr Telford complained that the feature articles breached principle 1 in that they were inaccurate and did not give a fair account of Pope Benedict’s remarks on the use of condoms nor give adequate information about the Catholic church’s teachings on ways to otherwise curtail the spread of Aids.
He further complained that the cartoon breached principle 8 by placing what he claimed was gratuitous emphasis on the remarks of Pope Benedict and as a consequence causing offence to those who follow the Pope’s teachings.
He also complained that the editorial was discriminatory and inaccurate. He considered that the editorial showed discrimination to his Catholic faith by claiming that this faith, held by one billion people, is ignorant and out of touch. In commenting on the editor’s assertion that the stance adopted by the Pope risked undermining the efforts of persons working to combat the spread of Aids, Fr Telford contended that the editorial was inaccurate because this failed to take account of the fact that 28% of the worldwide work fighting Aids was being carried out by people of the Catholic faith.
The Newspaper’s Response
The editor told the Council that the newspaper was dependent upon other sources for its international news. In this instance, the two articles and the news report were selected from The Times (London). The editor considered the Pope’s visit to Africa was highly newsworthy and considered that it would be remiss not to report upon it. He was satisfied that the coverage the newspaper gave to the story was fair.
He explained that it was a coincidence that the cartoon and editorial were available for publication on the same date. While he was aware that the leader writer was tackling the subject, the editor does not direct the cartoonist as to his subject matter. The editor observed that cartooning could be challenging and confronting. He did not consider that the cartoonist, in this instance, had been grossly offensive.
He argued that it was important in an opinion piece to be able to criticise religious leaders or governments if there was a legitimate argument to be made. He distinguished between criticising someone’s faith and criticising those in power within structures which represent those faiths.
Discussion
The articles complained about are features, which entitle a journalist to state a view. They were published on the op-ed page and did not purport to be news reportage. As such they were not required to be ‘fair’. The Council notes that there was a news item on the same topic, and by the same journalists, also published on 19 March.
To criticise the comments of a religious leader is not the same thing as criticising the faith of the leader’s followers.
The cartoon is critical. But cartoonists must be permitted to challenge and confront. At times cartoons will cause offence but freedom of expression does not mean expressing only views that people agree with and suppressing other views. Without that understanding, freedom of expression ceases to exist.
The editorial is a strongly critical one. But again we uphold the right of an editor to raise arguments against any religious or political leader’s remarks where the editor considers that there are legitimate grounds for doing so. That decision is a matter for an editor’s discretion. It must be remembered that an editorial is an opinion piece and, given that, it is inevitable that there will be readers who disagree with its tenor.
The Council does not consider the publications complained about breached either principle 1 or principle 8.
The complaints are not upheld.
Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson (Chairman), Kate Coughlan, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, John Roughan, Alan Samson and Lynn Scott.