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.