The Australian Press Council has considered a complaint by Andrew Robertson about an opinion article by Tim Blair in The Daily Telegraph on 6 June 2011, headed Simple way to spit on the dummies.
Mr Robertson complained that the concluding section of the article implied climate scientists deserved the abuse and death threats they were allegedly receiving by email and, by excusing those emails, incited violent action against the scientists. He said that the article was unfair, offensive and failed to respect the privacy of climate scientists.
The article mentioned some climate scientists having performed on a television program a “shouty rap tune, complete with attempts at that genre’s tough-guy posing”. It then referred to alleged death threats against climate scientists, one of whom was quoted as saying they were “really not equipped to be treated in this way”. The article continued:
Well, that's not the message we got from their climate rap. 'Perhaps,' replied [a named reader], 'they shouldn't call people motherf...ers if they don't want to fight.'
The newspaper said that the words “Quite so” were meant to imply that the scientists should not be abusive themselves if they did not want to receive abuse. It denied that they were intended in any way to condone or incite violence against the scientists.
The Press Council considers that the words “Quite so” were capable of being interpreted in the way suggested by the newspaper but were also capable of being seen as condoning threats against climate scientists. On balance, it does not consider that the latter interpretation is so clear as to justify upholding the complaint.
The Council reiterates the view which it has expressed in previous years that journalists and editors have a heavy responsibility to avoid language which exacerbates the risk of violence or serious threats of violence. In doing so, they must take reasonable account of possible impacts on people who have a propensity for violence or wildly irrational behavior, as well as on the broader community. The Council will be issuing further Standards of Practice on this issue in the near future.