Complaint against The Piranha not upheld by Press Ombudsman

A student complained that the publication featured homophobic material

The Press Ombudsman has not upheld a complaint made by a Trinity student that student publication The Piranha breached Principle 8 (Prejudice) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.

In September, The Piranha published a “What’s Hot/ What’s Not” article which included “Gays” as a “hot” item. The piece referenced homophobic bullying in secondary school referred to the LGBTQ+ community using homophobic slurs and made fun of terms used by the LGBT community.

The complainant, a Trinity student and member of the LGBTQ+ community, said that they found the article to be “not only personally offensive but deeply damaging to those of us who have suffered physical and mental abuse at the hands of homophobic bullies”. The student complained about the “offensive slurs and multiple references to violence against LGBTQ people”.

The student issued the complaint to the Office of the Press Ombudsman alleging that the article breached Principle 8 (Prejudice) of the Code of Practice. This states: “The press shall not publish material intended or likely to cause grave offence or stir up hatred against an individual or group on the basis of their … sexual orientation …”

The editors of the Piranha responded that the article was about homophobia, rather than intended to be homophobic. “It, as satire often does, shines a light on the realities of growing up gay in Ireland through brutal visceral language … the Piranha is a satire paper written and edited by members of the Queer community and we feel it would be disingenuous for us not to write honest comedy about our own experiences of bullying growing up and thriving within Trinity”.

The opening line of the article in question read: “Remember the limp-wristed arse bandit you gave a hearty kicking to on Junior Cert night?”

The article continues to say that gay men are in many of the leadership positions on campus at the moment. “The guy with diamonds in his ears and disappointment in his Father’s eyes? He’s the goddamn chair of every interest you suppressed in order to pursue county minor and damage your knee joints irreparably.”

The student responded to the editors by saying it was not clear that the magazine was “critiquing … the culture of homophobia and violence towards LGBTQ people. The article in question engages in vulgar slurs and tired stereotypes of weak, effeminate gay men …”

The complaint could not be resolved by conciliation and was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision, which found: “The article did include language which, had the purpose of the author been hostile towards the LGBTQ community, might have been judged to have crossed the line in terms of causing grave offence against an identifiable group.”

“However, given that the author included “Gay” as one of the “Hot” attributes to students, it is difficult to conclude that the author’s intentions were hostile towards LGBTQ people. Rather the article has to be seen as a somewhat ham-fisted attempt at satirical humour,” the Press Ombudsman continued.

“That the article might be judged as not successful as a humorous piece is not relevant. The greatest licence available to journalists is in the writing of satire. Most people reading satire apply wide margins to their tolerance of language and opinions which might be regarded as unacceptable in mainstream journalism. For these reasons the complaint is not upheld.”

In its latest issue, released this week, The Piranha featured an article on “The Piranha’s Guide to Stopping Minorities Satirising Their Own Experience”, and listed “Liberal Outrage & My Editors” as a “not” in its What’s Hot / What’s Not piece.

The Piranha was founded in 1978 and is a recognised publication of Trinity Publications, one of College’s five capitated bodies.

An earlier version of this article implied that there is only one editor of The Piranha, when there are two. The artice was updated  to reflect this at 4:30pm on 27 November, 2018. 

Lorna Aylward

Lorna Aylward is a staff writer for Trinity News. She is a Senior Fresh Law student.