Back in March I reported on the National Union of Journalists Ethics Council’s decision to suspend Anthony McIntyre on account of an article he had written published supposedly implying that journalist Allison Morris was a police informer and an agent of the British state; Morris has said she believed the article put her life in danger.

An NUJ appellate tribunal has now reversed the suspension. It ruled that the Ethics Council had failed to pursue “opportunities for conciliation or mediation.” On the substance, the tribunal held that McIntyre had not unethically failed to distinguish fact from opinion, since the article, in its view, was “clearly an expression of opinion.”

The tribunal’s decision doesn’t explain the reasons for dismissing the other two charges—that McIntyre had not tried to ensure that the information in the article was “honestly conveyed, accurate and fair” and that he had not failed to do “his utmost to correct harmful inaccuracies.” It may be that on those charges, it was the procedural problem—the failure to pursue opportunities for conciliation or mediation—that saved the day for McIntyre. In any event, the tribunal found that the six-month suspension was an excessive penalty.

Interestingly, neither Morris nor the other complainant, Ciaran Barnes, appeared at the appellate hearing. I think some explanation of this is in order.