Devlin v Herald

The Herald reports:

complained about three stories published by the Herald.

The first two reports appeared on the newspaper’s website and the third report was given front-page prominence.

His complaint about unethical journalism traversed several of the principles, especially a lack of accuracy, fairness and balance; misleading headlines and captions; and misleading readers by the technical manipulation of a photograph.

Parts of his various complaints are upheld. …

More importantly, the Press Council does not accept the argument raised by the newspaper that a Wikipedia definition of “air rage” allows the term to be used to mean the general frustration felt by passengers annoyed by lengthy delays.

It takes the view that “air rage” suggests aggressive behaviour, behaviour exhibiting a loss of control, and there is no evidence of such action in the article. He certainly may have made an ill-considered remark, but there is no suggestion that he became violently angry.

These two complaints about a lack of accuracy and a misleading headline are upheld.

I love how the Herald tried to use a Wikipedia definition as a defence.

Finally, the council turned to Mr Devlin’s overriding contention that he was treated unfairly because the newspaper twisted a minor story into a “front-page extravaganza”.

The council has been loath in the past to delineate the positioning that editors might give to stories, for prominence inevitably depends on transitory factors, such as the relative importance of other news items on any given day.

Furthermore, the Press Council accepts that police escorting such a public figure from a plane, especially given the previous incident, was a valid story for the newspaper to cover.

Nevertheless, the cumulative effect of the red headline, the power of “Air rage”, a particularly large photograph, the dominant position on the front page, the three-times-repeated phrasing of “making a scene and being abusive” as well as the details about previous charges, has to be weighed in terms of general fairness.

In short, was this report so sensationalised that it became “overcooked” and thus unfair to Mr Devlin?

On balance, and despite its long-standing reluctance to adjudicate on the placement of stories, the Press Council unanimously agreed that the overall coverage was indeed unfair. This aspect of his complaint is also upheld.

As they said, it is unusual for The Press Council to second guess a newspaper on an issue such as prominence. The fact they unanimously decided to rule it was unfair, suggests they thought that Devlin really had been badly treated.

Having said that, most people manage to get on and off aircraft without upsetting the air crew, and that is one sure fire way to make sure no negative stories appear about you on board planes.

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