Clauses Noted: 12
Publication: The Daily Telegraph
Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou complained to the Press Complaints Commission that an article headlined "Stelios backs down as £71m jets in", published in The Daily Telegraph on 24 September 2011, made irrelevant and discriminatory reference to his race in breach of Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors' Code of Practice.
The complaint was not upheld.
The article commented on the complainant's abandonment of plans to call an Extraordinary General Meeting of the easyJet company following an announcement by the company's management that a dividend would be paid to its shareholders, who included the complainant. It followed on from another item (under the same byline) that criticised the slow response by world leaders to Eurozone financial problems, and began by noting: "at least we've had one Greek bail-out this week...". It also referred to the complainant as "Greek-born", and its final sentence concluded that "the worry for easyJet... is that Stelios concludes his approach actually works - and, like Greece itself, is quickly back for more. Though why would he do that - he doesn't need the money, does he?"
The complainant said the article had referred to his Greek Cypriot origins in order to undermine his credibility on financial matters. In his view, the analogy proposed between the Greek government's relationship with its foreign creditors and his relationship with easyJet rested only on his race, as the two situations were otherwise entirely different: the article had implied wrongly that, like the government of Greece, he had squandered money he did not deserve and now needed bailing out by his lenders. The right of shareholders of a company to demand dividends could not, the complainant said, be legitimately compared to requests for credit by non-creditworthy borrowers. He also objected to the final question posed by the columnist, which he considered left the inaccurate implication that - notwithstanding the claim that he was "richer, probably, than Greece" - he did in fact need "bailing out".
The newspaper said that the analogy had been a light-hearted journalistic conceit in a comment piece. The word "Greek" was not pejorative per se, and its use in this context had not related to any "racial" attributes. The reference to a "bail-out" was intended to mean that the complainant had bailed out of the EGM. It could also suggest in a "wry" way that the complainant had been bailed out. It noted that the Commission had previously ruled that descriptions of a person's public persona included by way of background were not "irrelevant" under the terms of Clause 12 (i). The fact of the complainant's Greek Cypriot birth was widely in the public domain, and the article had contained nothing that could reasonably be construed as an attack on the complainant on the grounds of his race. Nonetheless, the newspaper offered to publish a clarification noting that it had not intended to suggest that the complainant required financial assistance or was financially inept by virtue of his Greek origin along with an apology if any contrary impression was given.
The complainant strongly objected to the prominence given to his background as a Greek Cypriot in an article that criticised him. It was a matter of regret that this had upset and offended the complainant, but the role of the Commission was to decide whether it had also breached the requirements of Clause 12 in this area: "The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's race..." and "Details of an individual's race... must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story."
The Commission has previously found (in Haji-Ioannou v Financial Times) that the complainant's Greek Cypriot origin is a part of his public persona, and that brief references to it are not "irrelevant" under the terms of Clause 12. On this occasion, rather than making brief allusions, the article under complaint had employed an extended metaphor, playing on this aspect of the complainant's background, comparing his actions with those of the Greek government in a manner that both parties described as "farcical".
The Commission acknowledged the complainant's position that the connection between the Greek government's troubles and negotiations over a dividend to shareholders in easyJet was, in reality, tenuous. The connection had been made via the pun on the phrase "bail-out", and the Commission could understand the complainant's frustration that the two stories were being combined merely due to his connection to Cyprus.
However, given that the complainant himself had made public reference to his Greek Cypriot background, the Commission considered that to prohibit the use of such a rhetorical device in the context of a fanciful commentary on recent financial news would be disproportionate. The PCC should be slow, in its view, to interfere in satirical comment, even if it is judged to be misguided by some, especially when no overtly prejudicial or pejorative terms were used in the article.
In the Commission's view, the columnist had been entitled to make use of this ironic conceit as a means of commenting on parallels that he perceived in the two situations. This did not raise a breach of Clause 12 (ii) of the Code.
The complainant considered that the article had implied - in a prejudicial manner - that he was financially imprudent by connecting him to the Greek government. The Commission disagreed. References to the complainant were clearly based on his actions in calling off the EGM, and the article made explicit reference to the fact that he was "hugely wealthy" (in contrast to the Greek government). While the analogy might be unwelcome - and the Commission welcomed the newspaper's offer of a clarification and apology to the complainant, in light of the distress the article had evidently caused - the Commission could not agree that it had constituted a prejudicial or pejorative reference to the complainant's race under the terms of Clause 12 (i). The complaint was not upheld.
Dale v Daily Mail (2009)
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