September 5th, 2014
Dear Mr Caulfield,
I am writing with regard to an article published in this morning’s Metro Herald regarding the sad details of the emerging events in Charleville, Co Cork over the past 24 hours.
A line in the article reads “A well-informed source said: ‘The place is like a butcher’s parlour, or an abbatoir. Those poor little boys suffered a shocking death.’”
I believe this sentence to be incredibly insensitive. Such graphic detail was not required or requested and in my opinion, does not serve the public interest. I firmly believe that the article was very well placed to draw attention to rising mental health and suicide problems among young people and particularly, among the Traveller community. Instead, the article has sensationalised the tragic end to three lives in a small, close knit community.
This particular sentence was particularly grim and I question the validity of printing it as a result. I draw your attention to Principle 5 of the Press Ombudsman Code of Practice, relating to Privacy. Section 5.3 states that “Sympathy and discretion must be shown at all times in seeking information in situations of personal grief or shock. In publishing such information, the feelings of grieving families should be taken into account. This should not be interpreted as restricting the right to report judicial proceedings.”
I suggest this situation is unlikely to become a matter for the courts, nullifying the exemption in the clause in question. The sentence printed in the article compares the violent deaths of two young boys to a butcher’s practice, presenting an image of animals for slaughter. Frankly, I believe that drawing such an analogy lessens the worth of their lives and would have a horrific impact on family members who may read the article in question.
I also note Article 9 of the Press Ombudsman Code, specifically relating to Children. Section 9.1 reads that “Newspapers and magazines shall take particular care in seeking and presenting information or comment about a child under the age of 16.” By printing the sentence in question, your newspaper has presented gory, brutal and unnecessarily visceral information about the deaths of two children under the age of 10. I remind you that there are surviving relatives, many of them very young, who may in time also read this piece.
I’m not sure of your level of awareness about mental health and suicide in the Traveller community. Currently, the Traveller suicide rate is six times that of the national settled population, and for men specifically, it is seven times higher. Incidences of mental health problems are extremely widespread and members of the community express anxiety and discomfort when talking about mental health concerns. Your article could have drawn attention to suicide support services, mental health awareness for young people, victim support organisations and Traveller support structures, but it did not. Indeed, instead of analysing the blood on the walls, the journalist could have asked why this happened, why 1 in 11 Travellers die by suicide- and how we can work to lower that figure.
This article made victims of those children all over again, rehashing their cruel end in technicolour. The public interest was not served here and I believe an apology is due- not just for this family, but for the sake of the many families who have suffered the aftermath of such a situation and who do not need such brutal reminders.
Note: Mr Caulfield did not respond to this letter. Instead, he published it in heavily edited form on the Herald website, removing all references to the Press Ombudsman Code. My complaint was never acknowledged and the Press Ombudsman refused to consider the issue unless a member of the (traumatised) family in question would sign off on on the process.