BREAKING: Anthony McIntyre Suspended By The National Union of Journalists

I ordinarily don’t write about the collateral goings-on relating to the Belfast Project case, but several British and Irish readers have called my attention to a breaking development, and so by popular demand, here is a brief summary of the latest news: Anthony McIntyre, the Belfast Project researcher and petitioner in the Supreme Court, has been suspended by the National Union of Journalists for breaches of its code of conduct, according to a report in the Irish News.

The suspension stems from an article by Mark McGregor that McIntyre published on his blog, The Pensive Quill, in May 2012 concerning Allison Morris, a journalist with the Irish News who had interviewed Dolours Price in 2010. McIntyre’s view, which may or may not be right, is that Morris’s interview led directly to the UK’s request for judicial assistance to the United States and the issuance of subpoenas to Boston College. The article is no longer available at TPQ, but from materials that McIntyre has published, it seems that the article implied that Morris was a police informer and an agent of the British state, and Morris believed the post put her life in danger.

Under legal pressure, McIntyre removed the article from his blog, at the request, he says, of McGregor. Nonetheless, Morris complained to the NUJ, asserting that McIntyre had defamed her and had put her life in danger. McIntyre participated in the proceedings and made several substantive and procedural defenses.

As an aside, it seems clear to me that even if it was irresponsible, I don’t think McIntyre’s publication of the McGregor article would be actionable as defamation at least in the United States, or indeed that it would be actionable at all in the US. But of course, that’s not the question; the question is whether McIntyre had done his best “to ensure that information disseminated is honestly conveyed, accurate and fair,” whether he had done “his utmost to correct harmful inaccuracies,” and whether he had “differentiate[d] between fact and opinion.” Noting that McIntyre himself had claimed that his own safety had been put at risk by disclosures relating to the Belfast Project case, Morris wrote:

I am shocked that throughout this Mr McIntyre had attempted to court public sympathy by claiming he is at risk if the Boston tapes are released while at the same time unapologetically putting my life at risk.

In the end, the NUJ determined that McIntyre had violated two of the three cited provisions of its code of conduct, essentially finding that he had published uncorrected inaccuracies. It did not find that he had failed to differentiate fact from opinion. McIntyre does not seem to be taking the sanction very seriously:

“It’s an attempt to censor me, both by The Irish News and by the ethics council. It is censorship by the NUJ,” he said.
“How will I know if I’m suspended from the NUJ? What difference does it make? It’s like telling me I’ve been suspended from the igloo builders of the Sahara. Why do we need Leveson when we have these people?”

On the other hand, he has promised an appeal, to the courts if necessary. I will keep you posted.

About Ted Folkman

Ted Folkman is a shareholder with Murphy & King, a Boston law firm, where he has a complex business litigation practice. He is the author of International Judicial Assistance (MCLE 2d ed. 2016), a nuts-and-bolts guide to international judicial assistance issues, and of the chapter on service of process in the ABA's forthcoming treatise on International Aspects of US Litigation, and he is the publisher of Letters Blogatory, the Web's first blog devoted to international judicial assistance, which the ABA recognized as one of the best 100 legal blogs in 2012, 2014, and 2015.

7 thoughts on “BREAKING: Anthony McIntyre Suspended By The National Union of Journalists

  1. The background for this event is important. Allison Morris interviewed Dolours Price while Price was a patient in a mental hospital, turning aside requests from Price’s family to leave her alone while she was a psychiatric inpatient. Then Morris’ editors agreed to limit their use of the interview materials from a reporter’s visit to a mental patient. But then, mysteriously, a reporter at a different newspaper—Ciaran Barnes—reported that Dolours Price had taped a set of interviews that were archived at “Boston University.” His story suggested that he had heard those tapes, and could report on their content. Of course, Barnes couldn’t have heard the Boston College tapes, which were not available while Price was alive, especially since he couldn’t even figure out what university had those tapes. So Barnes somehow had content from a taped interview with Dolours Price, and Morris had a taped interview with Dolours Price that contained material her editors wouldn’t let her use, and Barnes and Morris are friends and former colleagues. This is not difficult to figure out, and the huffing and puffing of Morris and the NUJ is disingenuous, at best.

    By the way, to give you an idea of the seriousness and thoughtfulness of the Irish journalists who have sanctioned Anthony McIntyre, Ciaran Barnes’ story ran under the subhed, “TERRORIST IN A MINI-SKIRT WHO MARRIED A MOVIE STAR.” You can see that article and subhed here.

    Tabloid trash from tabloid trash.

    1. Thanks Chris! I don’t want to comment on the merits of what some other professions (journalists, archivists) think about the relevance of their own professional norms to aspects of the case. It does seem to me, though, that you are not really addressing the substance of the NUJ decision. That’s fine by me, as I’m not really addressing it either.

  2. Ted,

    glad you are taking an interest in this thing although I wish you would would get it right! It has never been suggested that Morris is an informer. I have not the slightest reason to believe she is nor have I heard anyone else suggest she is. Both her and Barnes were subject to satire from Mark McGregor and analysis from Ed Moloney. Their challenges can be supported.

    While both raise legitimate questions about the ethics of both journalists neither accuse them of being police informers.

    The Ethics Council from the outset, through its serving officer, displayed incompetence and switched track once cornered with the evidence that it had flouted its own rules. Moreover, it lied to both myself and my lawyer on the day of the hearing when it claimed that the hearing was not a disciplinary one but one aimed at resolving the issue. It claimed that as I could be subject to no sanction from that day’s hearing it was not necessary for me to have a legal representative. It then went on to hold what in fact was a disciplinary hearing. As ethical lying would seem to be an axiomatic contradiction the Ethics Council has a bit of explaining to do.

    1. I guess I don’t understand the point of the “satire,” then. The article is no longer available, so I can’t check this, but according to one of the emails you posted the article had a photoshopped photograph in which she was dressed as a PNSI policewoman. Isn’t her claim that this implied she was working for the police? But maybe you are saying that the photograph does not imply that she was an informer but was implying something else altogether. I am not close enough to the political context to be able to judge what an Irish or British reader looking at the photograph would have taken its meaning to be.

      I note your point about whether the NUJ followed its own procedures. Let me know how this plays out—I will be happy to post about the outcome of future proceedings, but because this is a bit tangential to the stuff I write about, I am not going to do a blow-by-blow of the briefs and arguments in real time, as I do with the US Belfast Project litigation.

  3. Ted, I did not reproduce the photos in my blog. Didn’t really know how to at the time and wasn’t worried one way or the other. People take it for granted she is not a police informer and that the blogger was slagging her off. Her work seems not to have been affected in the slightest by the slagging. She has had enough access since. Good for her. If people believed her to be an informer they would not talk to her. Nobody has ever asked me, Ed or Mark as far as I am aware, if we think she is an informer. And if they did the answer would be a resounding ‘no’ which we would have no problem putting in print. She knows this as I have told her.

    Mark called her the PSNI’s favourite journalist. It is not something I would have called her as I would see things differently and think matters are more complex. But that was no reason for me to refuse to reproduce his piece from his own blog which she was aware of and had not complained about. Also the point he claims to have been making was about the manner in which the PSNI selectively deal with journalists, why they go harsh on some but not others. Ed Moloney has asked the NUJ to examine this.

    As you say in the piece this would hardly raise an eyebrow in the States. And the Ethics Council has merely helped to inform more people of the origins of the dispute, which the Irish News wanted hidden.

    But the threat to free speech has increased over here. The NUJ folded in front of Leveson without asking us, the membership, if we thought surrender was appropriate. But then the Ethics Council is chaired by a character who stands for curbing free speech and compromising sources. Strange old world.

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