When evidence is not enough.

What follows is all communications between myself and representatives of the Irish Press Ombudsman’s office in relation to an article published by The Irish Times where Donald Clarke asserts that GamerGate is a right-wing pressure group. My analysis of the outcome follows the communications so if you want to skip the details jump to the “Analysis” section at the end.

I apologise for having to remove my complete name from the correspondence. At this point the futility of presenting the evidence outlined below to those who fervently believe that GamerGate is a harassment campaign dedicated to driving women out of gaming is well documented. I am sure a dedicated anti-GamerGate individual will consider it morally acceptable to attempt to destroy my reputation through any means necessary.

In a perhaps token effort to protect myself I will use the pseudonym “martin_m”. In addition, to minimise trolling of the Irish Press Ombudsman’s office staff and The Irish Times, I have shortened the names of many contacts to their initials and removed their email addresses.

Finally, I would like to state that while the outcome of the complaint was from my perspective unfortunate I am thankful to the representatives of the Ombudsman’s office for their professionalism and courtesy.

18th August 2015

Note: On reviewing the complaints procedure I was unsure if archive links were suitable. My initial communication was to verify that I could present evidence in electronic formats.

Dear Sir/Madam

I would very much appreciate if you could comment on the suitability of archived copies of a web page in satisfying point four of stage one of the complaints procedure.

As an example, https://archive.is/Bt0GA is an archived version of the page http://www.pressombudsman.ie/ note that it includes the date the snapshot was taken (top right) and the original URL of the web-page.

Kind regards.

martin_m

19th August 2015

Dear martin_m

Your email query has been forwarded to me. I am not sure I understand the issue you have raised. One of the requirements necessary if a complaint is to be accepted is that the article that is the subject of a complaint has been published in the previous three months. This applies to both print and online articles. If an online article remains accessible the relevant date is the date of first publication. This office would certainly accept an archived version of a web page as evidence of publication. On some occasions complainants refer both to the print and online versions of publications and provide this office with only one version. In these instances we would check that the two versions are identical. Increasingly complaints are received electronically with links to offending articles. We regard this as fulfilling requirements.

I hope this answers your query. If not, please come back to me.

Yours sincerely

PF
Press Ombudsman

19th August 2015

Dear PF

Many thanks for replying so quickly. I was wary that I may not be satisfying point four as I had intended to provide neither a cutting or scanned copy of the article. I was instead going to provide an archive link as I previously communicated. Your reply clears the matter up.

Apologies for adding a following question, however, I just realised that an entirely electronic communication does not seem to satisfy point 2 of the complaints procedure: “The complainant is first required to complain *in writing* directly to the editor of the publication concerned. They should mark their *letter* to the editor “Confidential — not for publication”.” (emphasis mine)

Do you have any suggestions as to best practice in sending a letter containing URL’s to referenced material? I have a number of references within the complaint (22) and wish to make verifying the content as convenient as possible for the editor of the publication. Sending the editor a hard-copy would make his or her life a little more difficult than it needs to be.

Kind regards.
martin_m

20th August 2015

martin_m,

The Press Ombudsman’s Office has interpreted “written” to include email communications. Providing links to published articles is accepted as the equivalent to providing a copy.

Newspaper editors are well used to having all correspondence in regard to complaints in electronic form.

Best wishes

20th August 2015

Excellent. Many thanks for your help.
martin_m

21st August 2015 - I contact The Irish Times.

Note: Mr. O’Sullivan is the editor of the Irish Times.

Dear Mr. O’Sullivan

I write to you to convey my concern at an egregiously erroneous article by the writer Donald Clarke in the Irish Times on August 16th hoping that you can rectify the matter.

Please note, I will be predominantly using archived web page links in this complaint to present the content as it was found. I have contacted the Press Ombudsman to verify that this satisfies their
clause on providing a copy of the article in question and associated referenced material. The archive links contain the original URL of the source material and the date of the archive.

My complaint is in reference to the article entitled “#Gamergate discussion at SPJ event disrupted by bomb scare”. [1] I write as a person in this group. Mr. Clarke’s portrayal of the movement, and by extension myself, is not founded in fact.

It should be noted that the author has previously written disparagingly about the #GamerGate consumer movement/protest group, where he made authoritative statements about the nature of the group without providing evidence to corroborate his claims. [2, 3] My complaint will focus specifically on the August 16th article.

The author portrays the consumer movement/protest group as a right-wing mob in an effort to convince the reader that it is composed of malcontents parading as something other than what is claimed. The author does this by claiming the persons speaking on behalf of the consumer movement at a meeting of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) are right-wing and therefore persons who use the hash-tag or identify with the protest are, through guilt by association, right-wing.

Mr. Clarke erroneously or intentional misrepresents the six panellists who acknowledge the validity of the protest: “In short, only one of those listed on the pro-Gamergate side was not associated with a right-wing publication.”

His assertion that Christina Hoff Sommers is right-wing is based on her work at the American Enterprise Institute and her academic criticism of destructive elements within feminism. He conspicuously omits any reference to work published at what are considered left-leaning and centrist publications including Time [4] The Huffington Post [5] The Atlantic [6] and Slate. [7] Christina Hoff Sommers identifies as a “…(registered) Democrat — with libertarian leanings.” [8]

Mr. Clarke implies that Cathy Young is a conservative because, in the past, the libertarian publication she has contributed to — Reason — published work by conservative authors. Whilst this too is a judgement built upon a tenuous guilt-by-association judgement, Mr. Clarke conspicuously ignores Cathy Young’s own assertion that she identifies as libertarian/centrist. She has criticized right-wing politics and thinking in her articles. [9, 10, 11]

Allum Bokhari identifies as a liberal. [12] As with the previous panellists, Mr. Clarke labels him as a conservative due to his having contributed to Breitbart. Those contributions that do not fit the conservative label, including the libertarian publication Spiked [13], politically neutral GamePolitics [14, 15] and politically neutral TechCrunch [16] are not described in the article.

Mr. Clarke does accurately describe the political ideology of both Ashe Schow and Milo Yiannopoulos as conservative. However, his attempt to link their political ideologies to those of the protest group seems to hinge on their lack of negative coverage or overt support of the group.

When polled, a significant majority of persons who considered themselves part of the movement (N=1,540) identified as having a left and liberal libertarian political views. [14] Whilst a number of issues have been identified with the united-states focused nature of some of the questions the author — Allum Bokhari — provides all data and the analysis techniques.

In addition, when polled, only 434 out of 3,630 respondents of the then 21,447 member reddit hub devoted to #GamerGate activism — /r/KotakuInAction — self-reported as having conservative political views. [17] Note that the investigator took reasonable steps to minimise respondents false reporting. It should also be noted that the membership of the movement has increased to 49,183 [18] instead of having “…faded away into specialist corners of Twitter”, as claimed by Mr. Clarke in his article.

Finally, in relation to the political leanings of protesters, those who posted results after taking a political compass survey (N>360) overwhelmingly identify as left-libertarian. [19] Whilst this would not be considered conclusive on its own and would constitute a small sample in relation to the estimated 100,000-plus protesters who organise on multiple sites, in light of the previous findings there is no reason to suggest protesters are making a concerted effort to misrepresent their political inclinations.

For Mr. Clarke to assert that protesters are “a right-wing pressure group” is extraordinarily disingenuous in light of the available evidence.

Mr. Clarke describes the impetus for writing his article as a vitriolic Twitter message from the user @NeonAfro; a person who has eighty-three followers. [20] He then explains, “Anyway, not having thought a thing about Gamergate for about six months, I decided to have a cursory poke around the digital evidence.”. He makes damaging claims based on a “cursory” investigation of undisclosed “digital evidence” and his pre-existing hostility to the protest movement.

Other facts relating to the group are also conspicuously absent from Mr. Clarke’s article: he omitted that the protest group has a significant number of female and minority members [17], a significant proportion self-identify as feminist or egalitarian [17] and that over $100,000 has been donated by persons in or allied with the protest group to a number of charitable causes including $71,496 to promote women’s careers in game design. [21]

Despite this publicly available evidence, he has persisted in misrepresenting the group as a misogynist hate mob. This is entirely contrary to the findings of the anti-harassment group Women Action and the Media which found that 0.66% of persons identified as being associated with the protest group on Twitter (N=9844) could be classified as having exhibited harassing behaviour. [22]

Finally, when presented with examples of unethical journalistic practices from the comprehensive list complied by protesters [23] The Society of Professional Journalists ethics advisor Lynn Walsh stated in person that “GamerGate is a great idea. I think what you’re doing, exposing them, is fine.” [24]

Summary
Mr. Clarke has presented an article that misinforms the public that the #GamerGate consumer movement/protest group is:
1. A right-wing pressure group.
2. Primarily engaged in harassment (with a focus on women).
3. Masquerading as a pro-journalistic ethics protest group.

I hope that the evidence I have provided definitively debunks these claims and calls into question the nature of the destructive, rumour-based reporting Mr. Clarke has engaged in.

In misrepresenting the consumer movement Mr. Clarke has ignored the following sections in the Press Council of Ireland’s code of practice:
Principle 1, specifically section 1.1. Mr. Clarke misrepresented #GamerGate and by extension the persons who engage in consumer advocacy/protest including myself to the public.
Principle 2, specifically section 2.2. Mr. Clarke treated hearsay from persons claiming protesters including myself were the cause of harassment as fact despite a lack of evidence to corroborate his
claims.

Please contact me if you need additional information.

Yours Sincerely,
martin_m

References
[1] https://archive.is/gl4NZ
[2] https://archive.is/4Vgfa
[3] https://archive.is/4vuZl
[4] http://time.com/author/
[5] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/
[6] http://www.theatlantic.com/
[7] https://archive.is/PykNH
[8] https://archive.is/QcilJ
[9] https://archive.is/sAG7d
[10] https://archive.is/ZaoAS
[11] https://archive.is/V0D5H
[12] https://archive.is/yKb7o
[13] https://archive.is/va8es
[14] https://archive.is/p7mC8
[15] https://archive.is/RctY3
[16] https://archive.is/JjVg6
[17] https://archive.is/jwrmP
[18] https://archive.is/ZbNsh
[19] https://archive.is/n8tgS
[20] https://archive.is/htvzc — content warning, some nudity.
[21] https://archive.is/u3DYA
[22] http://womenactionmedia.org/
[23] http://deepfreeze.it/index.php
[24] https://www.youtube.com/watch?

21st August 2015

Dear martin_m,

Thank you for your email. We will consider the details you outline and revert next week.

I would be grateful if you could bear with us.

With best wishes,

LOK

24th August 2015

Dear martin_m,

Thank you for your email to the editor who is currently away from the office.

Your email is very comprehensive. I note that it takes issue with the opinions expressed by Donald Clarke in his blog in regard to the ideological/political leanings of the persons in GamerGate. You may wish to submit your email or a version thereof as a comment to Donald’s blog.

Yours sincerely,

EMV

24th August 2015

Dear EMV

Many thanks for the update. I am happy to await Mr. O’Sullivan’s
appraisal of the evidence and reply. Could you give me an approximate
date on when he may be able to reply in person?

Kind regards.
martin_m

24th August 2015

Dear martin_m,

I have authority to respond on behalf of the Editor, so you have his response.

EMV

24th August 2015

Dear EMV

Can you please clarify if the editor is indicating that no changes are
necessary to the article?

Yours sincerely.
martin_m

24th August 2015

Hi martin_m.

Yes, that is so.

Regards,

EMV

24th August 2015

Dear EMV

Many thanks on your prompt reply and clarification.

Yours sincerely,
martin_m

24th August 2015 - I submit my complaint to the Ombudsman

Note: I have removed the section below the email which contained all of the previously documented material.

Dear Ombudsman

I include in this email the original complaint and all correspondence
between myself and Mr. Kevin O’Sullivan’s representative at the Irish
Times relating to an egregiously erroneous article by the writer
Donald Clarke in the Irish Times on August 16th.

Please note that Mr. Sullivan’s representative - EMV -
suggested that their solution to this complaint was for me to post the
contents of the complaint in the comments section of the article in
question. This is not a satisfactory solution and, in any case, is not
possible as the Irish Times decided to refuse replies to the article
before EMV suggested that I do so. Please see the following
archived snapshot of the article and note that the comments section
has been closed: https://archive.is/NmMul

I am also aware that one of the conditions of the complaint procedure
is that the entire process must remain confidential and would not have
chosen to post the complaint there.

Given the large number of errors in the article and the unwillingness
of the Irish Times to post a retraction and apology to myself and the
consumer movement I am a part of I am formally asking for your
intervention on the matter.

Yours sincerely,
martin_m

==============================
Original complaint to the editor (also in responses following but
added for completeness):
==============================

Removed as described in the note above.

==============================
End of complaint to the editor. Correspondence follows:
==============================

Removed as described in the note above.

25th August 2015

Dear martin_m

I wish to acknowledge receipt of your email dated 24 August addressed to the Press Ombudsman.

The Press Ombudsman is away from the Office until Monday next, 31 August. In the meantime, I should be very grateful for your clarification of whether or not the material about which you complain was published in the print edition of The Irish Times.

Yours sincerely

BG

25th August 2015

Dear BG

I am unaware of if the article was also posted in the print edition.

Apologies for not being able to clarify.

martin_m

27th August 2015

Dear martin_m

Thank you for your email of 25 August, the contents of which I note.

This Office will be in touch with you again early next week regarding the matter that you raised in your email of 24 August.

Yours sincerely

BG

7th September 2015

Dear martin_m

I refer to our previous correspondence regarding your complaint about a blog published in The Irish Times. I apologise for the fact that I was not in a position to revert to you last week about your complaint.

This Office is in the process of considering the matter that you have raised and will revert to you at the earliest opportunity.

Yours sincerely

BG

7th September 2015

Dear BG

No apology necessary. Many thanks for keeping me appraised.

Yours sincerely

martin_m

14th September 2015

Dear martin_m

In the absence on annual leave of our Case Officer, BG, I wish to confirm that your complaint about The Irish Times is now being considered by this Office.

This Office will now contact the editor of The Irish Times with a view to resolving your complaint speedily and effectively through our conciliation process. Our conciliation process is a very important part of our complaints procedure and we will work with you and the editor in the interests of arriving at an outcome that will be satisfactory to both parties.

The success of this process depends entirely on the voluntary cooperation, in good faith, of all those involved, and a willingness on all sides to propose or accept reasonable compromises where the evidence suggests that these may contribute to a resolution of the complaint. A resolution to your complaint in this manner can also be achieved more speedily than if the Press Ombudsman were to make a formal decision.

If it is not possible to resolve the matter through our conciliation process, your complaint will be referred to the Press Ombudsman for consideration. He will take into account all the evidence in the case, including any offer that may have been made by the editor and any proposal that may have been made by you. In the light of this evidence, he may decide to uphold your complaint, not to uphold your complaint that an offer made by the newspaper was, in all the circumstances, sufficient to resolve your complaint, or that there is insufficient evidence available to him to make a decision one way or the other.

BG will be in touch with you again as soon as a response is received from the editor.

Yours sincerely

ML

28th September 2015

Dear martin_m

Further to our recent correspondence regarding your complaint about the blog published by The Irish Times the newspaper’s editor, Mr Kevin O’Sullivan, has now contacted this Office in response to your complaint.

While the editor has indicated that he stands over the material that was published, in an effort to resolve your complaint about the matter he has offered to carry a response from you to the piece complained about. He has said that will do this by reopening the blog to comment.

I would be very grateful for your observations on the editor’s response to your complaint. If you would like to take up his offer to publish a response from you, I will let him know so that the necessary arrangements can be made to re-open the blog to allow your comments to be published.

If you remain dissatisfied, your complaint will be referred to the Press Ombudsman for his consideration. The Press Ombudsman will take all of the correspondence on file into consideration and make a decision. He may decide that the offer made by the editor was, in all the circumstances, sufficient to resolve your complaint, or he may decide to uphold your complaint, not to uphold your complaint, or that there is insufficient evidence available to him to make a decision one way or the other.

Please do not hesitate to contact me at [NUMBER REMOVED] if you would like to discuss the matter with me.

Yours sincerely

BG

2nd October 2015

Dear BG

Thank you for keeping me updated and informed.

In regards to Mr O’Sullivan’s offer of publishing a response in comments, this would not constitute a satisfactory solution to the damaging claims made by Mr. Clarke. Moreover, I believe it does nothing to show that Mr. Clarke and Mr. O’Sullivan acknowledge that the article was not based in fact. In addition, this would not address the disregard of Principles 1 and 2 of the Press Council of Ireland’s code of practice I listed in my complaint.

My hope for this complaint was that Mr O’Sullivan would recognise that Mr. Clarke’s assertions had no basis in fact given the available evidence and have him post an explanation in the story that Mr. Clarke was in error (or prejudiced if appropriate). Mr O’Sullivan’s willingness to stand by the article despite the evidence that soundly refutes Mr. Clarke’s claims is deeply troubling.

Given the damaging nature of the claims made by Mr. Clarke, the volume of evidence that refutes his claims and the lack of evidence to corroborate the material presented in his article I think it is reasonable that the article contains a disclaimer at the top that explains Mr. Clarke’s assertions are not factual. Alternatively, if the article is retracted, I think an explanation as to why would be appropriate.

Yours sincerely
martin_m

2nd October 2015

Dear martin_m

Thank you for your email of today’s date.

I should be grateful for your advice as to how you wish this Office to proceed with its consideration of your complaint. As advised in my recent email, if you remain dissatisfied, I can refer your complaint to the Press Ombudsman for his consideration.

Do you wish me to refer your complaint to the Press Ombudsman for his consideration?

BG

2nd October 2015

Dear BG

Apologies for not answering the question in my last email. If you
could please forward the complaint to the Press Ombudsman I would very
much appreciate it.

Yours sincerely
martin_m

5th October 2015

Dear martin_m

Thank you for your email of 2 October.

As it has not been possible to resolve the matter by conciliation, your complaint is now being referred to the Press Ombudsman for consideration. The Press Ombudsman will examine all of the material in the case in the light of the Code of Practice and make a decision. He may decide that the newspaper’s response to your complaint was, in all the circumstances, sufficient to resolve the matter, or he may decide to uphold your complaint, not to uphold your complaint, or that there is insufficient evidence available to him to make a decision one way or the other.

The Press Ombudsman will communicate directly with you and with the newspaper as soon as he has made his decision. While the Press Ombudsman usually makes his decision within two weeks of a complaint being referred to him, there may be a slight delay on this occasion due to the fact that he is away from the Office on business for most of this week.

It is this Office’s policy to publish decisions on our website and in published reports and the newspaper must, if the complaint is upheld, publish the decision in relation to any part of the complaint that is upheld. The decision will include the essential details of your complaint, including your name and the name of the publication. I should be grateful if you would let this Office know immediately if you have any concerns about your name being published in this manner. If you have any concerns about the publication of your name, the decision will be anonymised.

In accordance with our general procedures, all information in relation to the matter must remain confidential until after the complaint, including any appeal has been processed.

Yours sincerely

BG

Note: At this point I believe I made a poor decision. While I stand behind my complaint, I was aware that a number of people who had advocated for the GamerGate protest were subjected to persecution by persons who were staunchly opposed to and were actively engaged in misrepresenting the goals of the GamerGate protest. In retrospect, I am primarily concerned not for myself but for my family members given that there are persons who assert that there are (almost) no bad tactics, only bad targets.

5th October 2015

Dear BG

Many thanks for the information. I do not have any issue with my name
being published in relation to the complaint.

Yours sincerely.
martin_m

15th October 2015

Dear martin_m

Further to your recent correspondence with this Office regarding your complaint about a blog published by The Irish Times on l6 August last, I have now considered your complaint and attach a copy of my decision.

Either party can appeal this decision. Any appeal must be made to the Press Council of Ireland, 1, 2 & 3 Westmoreland Street, Dublin 2; fax: [NUMBER REMOVED]; email: chairman@presscouncil.ie, within ten working days of the date of my decision (i.e. by 5 pm on Friday, 30 October). Appeals will be considered under one or more of the following grounds:

  • that there has been an error in procedure;
  • that significant new information is available that could not have been or was not made available to the Press Ombudsman before he made his decision;
  • that there has been an error in the Press Ombudsman’s application of the Principles of the Code of Practice.

Appellants should state which of these grounds are relevant to their appeal and should provide appropriate evidence and arguments to support the appeal. Mere disagreement with my decision is not a sufficient ground for appeal.

All information in relation to my decision must remain confidential until after the expiration of the period within which an appeal must be lodged, or after the determination of any such appeal.

Yours sincerely

Peter Feeney

Press Ombudsman

The decision: martin_m and The Irish Times

The Press Ombudsman has decided that The Irish Times offered to take sufficient action to resolve a complaint by martin_m.

On 16 August 2015 The Irish Times posted a blog by one of its correspondents. The subject matter of the blog was an issue that had arisen amongst those who develop, critique and promote digital games. The author gave his views about a loosely formed group operating under the hashtag Gamergate. Thirty-five comments were posted under the blog, many of these were critical of the author’s views and disagreed with his characterisation of those involved in #Gamergate.

martin_m, the complainant, emailed the editor of The Irish Times on 21 August complaining of inaccuracies in the blog. He described the blog as “an egregiously erroneous article” and “destructive rumour based reporting”. He stated that the blog “treated hearsay from persons claiming protestors including (himself) were the cause of harassment as fact despite a lack of evidence to corroborate his claims”

The Irish Times responded by offering martin_m an opportunity to contribute a version of his complaint as a comment to the blog. This was not acceptable to martin_m.

On 24 August martin_m submitted a complaint to the Press Ombudsman’s Office, claiming that the blog breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) and Principle 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland. He claimed that Principle 1 had been breached as the blog misrepresented #Gamergate and by extension the persons who engage in consumer advocacy/protect, including himself, to the public. He claimed that Principle 2 had been breached as claims of harassment by members of #Gamergate had been published as fact despite a lack of evidence. He stated that the offer of The Irish Times to post a comment by him was “not a satisfactory solution and, in any case, is not possible as The Irish Times decided to refuse replies to the article” before the offer was made to him.

As the complaint could not be conciliated it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision. The editor of The Irish Times stated that the characterisations found in the blog were legitimate and by no means “far-fetched expressions” of the author of the blog. He said that to run a “correction” would be to undermine the author’s freedom of speech. He stated that the newspaper had offered to carry a response to the piece with the blog, and that it could do so by re-opening the blog to comment. He concluded that this offer was still open to martin_m.

martin_m responded to this offer by saying that “it would not constitute a satisfactory solution to the damaging claims made by (the author of the blog)”. He said that the publication of his comments would not be an acknowledgement that the “article was not based on fact”. In his view a disclaimer was necessary at the top of the article that the assertions in the article were not factual.

It is the decision of the Press Ombudsman that sufficient action was offered by The Irish Times to resolve the complaint when it offered martin_m an opportunity to contribute to the debate generated by the blog. Quintessentially a blog is an opinion piece and those who read blogs understand this and have an expectation that if they wish to comment or disagree with views found in the blog they can do so through the facility to post comments which will be published with the blog. The Irish Times offered this to martin_m but he wanted much more than this. It is quite clear that many of those who did post comments held essentially the same views as martin_m, i.e. that they disagreed with the views expressed in the blog. I cannot see any reason why martin_m should be treated any differently than others who also disagreed with the views expressed by the author of the blog.

15th October 2015

Dear Miriam

Many thanks for forwarding the decision of the Press Ombudsman on to
me, please thank him for taking the time to consider my complaint.

Could I clarify if evidence provided by The Irish Times editor in any
way informed the Ombudsman’s decision?

Yours Sincerely.
martin_m

15th October 2015

Dear martin_m

Thank you for your email of today’s date. The Press Ombudsman, in coming to a decision on a complaint, always takes into consideration all of the documentation submitted by a complainant, and any response to the complaint submitted by the publication.

I hope that this clarifies the matter for you.

Yours sincerely

15th October 2015

Dear Miriam

It does indeed. Many thanks for the prompt reply.

Yours sincerely
martin_m

19th October 2015

Note: On reviewing the Press Ombudsman’s decision I decided to appeal the decision.

Dear Ombudsman

Thank you for taking the time to consider my complaint.

I would very much appreciate if you would consider my appeal of your decision:

I acknowledge that in many cases a blog constitutes the opinion of the author. In specifying in your decision that it is assumed a blog quintessentially constitutes an opinion is it not reasonable to then expect that the content of Mr. Clarke’s blog be presented as opinion rather than a series of claims that he overtly asserts are based on nebulous “digital evidence”?

Mr. Clarke makes authoritative statements throughout his article. He asserts that I and tens of thousands of others within the GamerGate protest movement are disingenuous and constitute a right wing pressure group regardless of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. None of
this is presented as his own subjective opinion, it is presented as fact.

In addition, the response of Mr. O’Sullivan included a statement that the characterisation of me in the article — a member of the consumer protest — was an accurate representation of my behaviour and that of the protesters in general. If this is the case then Mr. O’Sullivan is also asserting that these are not his and Mr. Clarke’s opinions, he is presenting the claims as evidence-based without presenting anything other than conjecture and hear-say.

Thus, regardless of the article being published as a blog, I would hope that the article must meet the guidelines specified in the press standards guidelines given its content rather than an presumption that it is an opinion.

In your decision you specify that the Irish Times provided me with fair recourse by offering to publish my rebuttal in the comments section of the article. In rejecting this as a solution I considered if it was reasonable that protection to damaging assertions made about me and others in an article should necessitate that everyone who reads it will take the time to find a rebuttal in a comments section and weigh the evidence. I concluded that this was unrealistic.

You suggest the offer of the Irish Times as allowing me to “contribute to the debate generated by the blog” is a satisfactory means for me to disprove or contest the assertions made by Mr. Clarke. I do not think that contributing to a debate in a comments section in any way protects me and others (or the public in general) from damaging claims made on the grounds of guilt by association, conjecture or hear-say.

Please consider if the only protection against damaging, erroneous assertions should be that readers be expected to assume that all blogs are opinion regardless of how the content is presented. Please also consider if debating in a comments section, that readers may not take the time to read, should be the only means by which I and others can hope to be accurately represented. Should it be possible to be exempt from Principle 4 of the press standards when making claims in a publication’s blog? Similarly, should the standards of truth and accuracy not be expected when any assertion is made in a publication regardless of the platform?

If so, I respectfully suggest that the content of the article is subject to the press ethics guidelines and that a comments section is not a robust platform for the mitigation of damaging claims.

Yours sincerely.
martin_m

23rd October 2015

Dear martin_m,

This is to confirm that the Press Council of Ireland has received your appeal, against the decision of the Press Ombudsman made on 15 October 2015, in relation to a complaint made by you about a blog published on IrishTimes.com on 16 August 2015.

This office will be in touch with you as soon as possible following the relevant decision of the Press

Council in relation to this appeal, which is scheduled, subject to time constraints, to take place at the meeting of the Press Council scheduled for Friday 4 December 2015.

In accordance with our general procedures, all information in relation to this matter must remain

confidential until all aspects of the complaints and appeals process are completed.

Yours sincerely,

BG

8th December 2015

Dear martin_m,

At its meeting on 4 December, the Press Council of Ireland considered an appeal against the decision of the Press Ombudsman, made by you, arising from your complaint regarding a blog published on IrishTimes.com on 16 August 2015.

The Council decided that the complainant had not established grounds for the appeal and therefore the Decision of the Press Ombudsman stands.

In accordance with Principle l0 of the Code of Practice for Newspapers and Magazines, there is no obligation on the Irish Times to publish this decision unless it wishes to do so, in which case, it should be published in accordance with the guidelines laid down by the Press Council of Ireland, a copy of which I enclose for ease of reference.

The full decision will be published on our website very shortly.

Yours sincerely,

ML

8th December 2015

Note: At this point I thought I should verify that the Press Ombudsman’s decision was entirely motivated by his view that a blog was purely opinion and that the facts were not relevant to the complaint against the article.

Dear ML

Many thanks for contacting me and forwarding the decision of the Press Council’s review board.

Would it be possible to get a copy of the evidence that Mr. Clarke and Mr. O’Sullivan presented to the Ombudsman to convince him that my complaint was without merit?

Yours sincerely,

martin_m

8th December 2015

Dear martin_m

Thank you for your email of today’s date.

I should clarify that the Press Ombudsman did not find that your complaint was without merit: his decision on your complaint was that sufficient action was offered by The Irish Times to resolve your complaint when it offered you an opportunity to contribute to the debate generated by the blog.

All complaints accepted by this Office are pursued only with the editor of a member publication, or his/her nominee. In relation to your complaint, this Office communicated only with the editor. The evidence that the editor of the newspaper presented to this Office, which was taken into consideration by the Press Ombudsman in coming to his decision on your complaint, was

  • The exchange of emails between you and the newspaper prior to your making a formal complaint to this Office, copies of which you forwarded to this Office by email on 25 August.
  • The editor’s offer to carry a response from you to the piece about which you complained, by reopening the blog to comment. This offer was put to you in an email from this Office dated 28 September.

Yours sincerely

ML

8th December 2015

Dear ML

Many thanks for the clarification, this was very useful.

Yours sincerely.
martin_m

Analysis:

The Press Ombudsman has stated that Mr. Clarke’s article — having been published in the form of a blog — is an opinion piece and is seemingly not subject to the ethical guidelines published by the Press Council of Ireland. As my appeal indicates, I thought this was an odd assumption given the nature of the claims being made by Mr. Clarke and his assertion that he had “digital evidence” to back those claims. While I am disappointed that the Ombudsman chose not to uphold my complaint, the ramifications of the decision are interesting. While I appreciate that I have presented a single case and thus it may be dangerous to extrapolate, it appears that any assertion may be published in a blog with no expectation of supporting evidence. This includes material the Press Council guidelines advise against, provided of course that the misrepresented parties have access to a comments section attached to the article in which to write a rebuttal.

In my request for the evidence provided by Mr. O’Sullivan and Mr. Clarke I had hoped to see what “digital evidence” was made available to the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman’s opinion was that the factual content of my complaint did not inform the decision and, additionally, the decision was not informed by any supporting evidence provided by Mr. O’Sullivan or Mr. Clarke. It was instead based upon the assumption that anyone visiting the article would always consider it an opinion piece regardless of the actual content and would read the comments.

Moreover, in requesting that an article containing damaging claims have to support the veracity of said claims or be modified in line with the publishing guidelines I was demanding special treatment. The basis for this decision seems to be that since nobody else complained I should have been happy with The Irish Times reopening the comments section.

As for The Irish Times, well, I can only hope that readers will read the comments before trusting their “digital evidence”-based reporting; an idea that’s not terribly reassuring I must admit.

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