- Entrepreneur claimed Daily Telegraph made ‘irrelevant’ references to his race
- Article implied he needed ‘bailing out’ by lenders, says Stelios
- PCC reluctant to ‘interfere in satirical comment’
Entrepreneur Stelios Haji-Ioannou has had a complaint over alleged racist references to his Cypriot Greek origins against a national newspaper rejected for the second time in the space of six months.
Haji-Ioannou complained to the Press Complaints Commission that a 24 September article in the Daily Telegraph – headlined ‘Stelios backs down as £71m jets in’– made ‘irrelevant and discriminatory’references to his race.
The article related to his abandonment of plans to call an Extraordinary General Meeting of the EasyJet company after it announcement a dividend would be paid to shareholders included Haji-Ioannou.
Another article, written by the same journalist, criticised the slow response by world leaders to the Eurozone financial crisis but added: ‘at least we’ve had one Greek bail-out this week…”.
It referred to Haji-Ioannou as “Greek-born” and in the last sentence it said: “the worry for easyJet… is that Stelios concludes his approach actually works – and, like Greece itself, is quickly back for more. Though why would he do that – he doesn’t need the money, does he?”
Haji-Ioannou said the article had referred to his Greek Cypriot origins ‘in order to undermine his credibility on financial matters”. The analogy between the Greek government’s relationship with its foreign creditors and his relationship with EasyJet rested only on his race, he claimed.
Haji-Ioannou also argued the article implied that ‘like the government of Greece, he had squandered money he did not deserve and now needed bailing out by his lenders”. The last line also implied despite being “richer, probably, than Greece” he did in fact need “bailing out”.
In its defence the paper said the analogy ‘had been a light-hearted journalistic conceit in a comment piece’and that the word “Greek” was ‘not pejorative per se, and its use in this context had not related to any ‘racial’ attributes”.
The reference to a “bail-out” was intended to mean that the complainant had bailed out of the EGM but could also suggest in a “wry” way that the complainant had been bailed out. The Telegraph said there was nothing in the article that ‘could reasonably be construed as an attack on the complainant on the grounds of his race”.
It did, however, offer to publish a clarification noting that it had not intended to suggest Haji-Ioannou required financial assistance or was ‘financially inept by virtue of his Greek origin”.
PCC ‘slow to interfere in satirical comment’
The PCC rejected the complaint under Clause 12 (discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.
While it was a matter of ‘regret’that Haji-Ioannoun was offended by the article, the PCC’s role was to decide whether it had breached Clause 12: “The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s race…” and “Details of an individual’s race… must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.”
It acknowledged that the connection between the Greek government and negotiations over a dividend to shareholders in EasyJet was ‘tenuous”.
‘The connection had been made via the pun on the phrase ‘bail-out’, and the commission could understand the complainant’s frustration that the two stories were being combined merely due to his connection to Cyprus,’it said in its adjudication.
‘However, given that the complainant himself had made public reference to his Greek Cypriot background, the Commission considered that to prohibit the use of such a rhetorical device in the context of a fanciful commentary on recent financial news would be disproportionate.’
The PCC’s position was also that it should be slow ‘to interfere in satirical comment, even if it is judged to be misguided by some, especially when no overtly prejudicial or pejorative terms were used in the article”.
‘In the commission’s view, the columnist had been entitled to make use of this ironic conceit as a means of commenting on parallels that he perceived in the two situations,’it added.
In September the PCC rejected a similar complaint made by Haji-Ioannou against the Financial Times.
In that case it found that his Greek Cypriot origin was a part of his public persona and that brief references to it are not “irrelevant” under the terms of Clause 12.
The headline in the FT story made reference to a “Greek chorus” and the article referred to Stelios as a ‘Greek entrepreneur”, when he was in fact a British citizen by birth and held dual UK and Cypriot nationality.
The PCC rejected claims that references to his race were irrelevant to the story and that the FT had sought to portray him as an ‘untrustworthy foreigner”.