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Irish Mail on Sunday responds to air controller blogger’s complaint

We reported earlier this week that air controller and blogger Melanie Schregardus had lodged a complaint with the Irish Mail on Sunday, after the newspaper ran an article about her last Sunday. Online users rushed to her defence, via Twitter and in the comments on her reinstated blog.

The editor of the Irish Mail on Sunday, Sebastian Hamilton, told Journalism.co.uk that the newspaper has now responded to Schregardus’ complaint and is awaiting her reply, if she has one.

As we reported before, Schregardus told Journalism.co.uk she had been in touch with the Irish press ombudsman and is seeking legal advice.

A re-published copy of Schregardus’ original blog post can be viewed here; Bernie Goldbach has a PDF of the newspaper article on his blog (or Twitpic here)

In a statement issued by the Irish Mail on Sunday today, it presents its own version of events:

Some months ago Mrs Schregardus published a 500-word account of her experiences as a female air traffic controller on an internet blog that was open to millions of people around the world to read. Mrs Schregardus made no effort to restrict the viewing. In the week air traffic controllers staged a four-hour walk-out, it provided a fascinating insight into working conditions in a job that was obviously of major public interest.

Writing after the Mail on Sunday article was published, Schregardus had claimed: The Mail never told me they were writing a piece about my blog. The journalist who wrote it never sent me an email asking me questions about my blog.

But the Mail disputes that account in its statement today:

It is simply untrue to say that the paper did not contact Mrs Schregardus before publication. On Thursday, January 21, Luke Byrne [the reporter] attempted to contact Mrs Schregardus by Twitter (the only contact details he had) and asked her for an interview. On Friday, January 22, Mrs Schregardus replied. She informed Mr Byrne that she had sought permission from her trade union to speak to us. He awaited further contact from her, but he did not hear from Mrs Schregardus again. Either she chose not to speak to him or her union refused her permission to do so.

By this stage Mrs Schregardus had already put her description of her workplace into the public domain. In this respect, publishing an open blog is little different from giving a TV interview, making a radio broadcast or sending out a handbill: you are airing your opinions for all to hear.

Scheragadus said she believed the article made it sound like she thought her colleagues were sexist: “The people I work with today could, and probably have, read it and decided that I am not on their side, and that I think that they are sexist, nasty, bullies. None of this is true.”

The Irish Mail on Sunday said today:

The Irish Mail on Sunday did not attribute to Mrs Schregardus the view that her colleagues were sexist. Luke Byrne quoted extensively from what she had said about her working environment. His account made clear that some of the sexist behaviour described by Mrs Schregardus (such as refusing to let women sit together) occurred during her early days as an air traffic controller and that conditions have improved since. While the article reported a number of sexist incidents, it does not say she is unhappy: for example, it quotes her as saying: ‘I’m well looked after by the guys, they’re quite protective of their “girlie”.’

Nevertheless, based on the contents of her blog, it is an empirical fact that her workplace is a sexist environment. Mrs Schregardus describes ‘banter’ between her male colleagues that, in her own view, is ‘quite inappropriate’ in front of a woman. She adds that that she is forced to pretend that such comments do not bother her.  Furthermore, Mrs Schregardus describes how to this day she is one of very few women employees in air traffic control – and, extraordinarily, that she still expected, ‘as the girl’, to take on secretarial tasks such as sending birthday cards and organising Christmas parties.

Last week’s air traffic controllers’ strike, which brought the country to a standtstill, was presented by union leaders as being about fairness for workers. In this context, it was a matter of public interest to tell our readers how some air traffic controllers actually behave towards female colleagues.

In the eyes of the law, and presumably of most reasonable people, male workers who make such comments and treat female colleagues in this way in a 21st century office would be considered to be behaving in a sexist and discriminatory fashion. Indeed, several of the comments on her original post sympathise with the attitudes of her colleagues or tell similar stories of women being discriminated against in the workplace (one, from a Danish Tweeter, says: ‘Come to Denmark, my friend – I do hope we offer some more respect than described here’.)

In regards to the image in the article, Schregardus told Journalism.co.uk: “I don’t know where the photo was taken from. It wasn’t on my blog. It is on my Facebook profile, but that’s completely shut down privacy-wise.”

Today, the Mail said:

The photograph of Mrs Schregardus which we published to accompany this article came from Page 36 of this online magazine http://issuu.com/connors-bevalot/docs/publication1_-destress

Like Mrs Schregardus’s blog, it had been put into the public domain by Mrs Schregardus herself.

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  • The only contact details he had for her was Twitter? Didn’t you try her blog? 🙂

  • Alex

    To anybody reading this pathetic damage limitation exercise, I suggest you have a look at:

    The original http://melschregardus.wordpress.com/2010/01/24/women-in-air-traffic-control/

    Then the Daily Mail version: http://twitpic.com/zka77/full

    And the controller’s full response: http://melschregardus.wordpress.com/2010/01/24/in-response-to-irish-mail-on-sunday/

  • Brian

    The piece was written by Luke Byrne under the heading “The Male Chauvinist Pigs of Irish Air Traffic Control” and claims to have discovered how a “Controller’s web diary reveals the sexism and filthy language that are rife in the tower”. In truth it is a simple blog – NOT a diary, with all the sinister undertones that conveys of spying on fellow workers – posted by a young Air Traffic Controller by the name of Melanie Schregardus who jotted a short and humorous little piece some time ago in answer to her online friends who asked what it was like to be an ATC.

    Byrne has done a fairly amateurish cut-and-paste job which, even to readers of the Mail, is self contradictory. He quotes her as saying “The arrival of this wave of new (female) controllers caused turmoil among the old guard” and in the next sentence gives her actual comment “Initially older male controllers were bemused”. Byrne writes “She said sexism was institutionalised in the work practice of the tower” (neither she nor her team work in the tower). I studied the blog and could find no such statement – she did joke about one of the older men saying “finally, some eye candy”!

    Among the other sensationalist items, there’s “She revealed that she endured one of the most pervasive forms of workplace sexism – the filthy language of the ‘boys’ around her”. And goes on to repeat the actual quote from Mrs Schregardus – “The banter between the guys can get quite inappropriate…”

    It doesn’t quite live up to his opening paragraph promise that “A woman traffic controller has lifted the lid on the REAL world inside the control tower – a den of male chauvinists who turn the air blue with crude jokes and expect their female colleagues to take on the ‘girlie’ tasks of sending birthday cards and arranging the Christmas party”. The last shock-horror revelation refers to the Schregardus mention of a quid-pro-quo arrangement whereby she, as the only female on her team, looks after the arranging of the annual party and has the whip-around when it’s a mate’s birthday, while the guys watch-out for her and make sure she is treated well wherever she goes. Used to be called chivalry, I seem to remember.

    Not surprisingly, she refused to talk to Byrne when he contacted her out of the blue some weeks ago asking for her views of the ATC industrial situation (she recalls being surprised to receive such a call from a stranger, suggesting he was already stalking her via her private blog page), she has never met him, nor has she given him permission to read her blog, let alone misquote from it, nor did she ok the use of her private picture, taken at home, which is not on her site. All of this must raise questions about the privacy of Facebook, Twitter and the other online social meeting places.

    And finally there is the devastation caused to a young woman suddenly finding herself occupying a tabloid page and allegedly saying all sorts of things about her employers and about her team members. Even when the dust settles, her chances of career advancement in aviation are negligible – mud really does stick. Ironically she was one of the two controllers who, with the blessing of their union and team members, volunteered to mann their posts in case of emergencies during the recent four-hour stoppage – unpaid and obviously unappreciated for their dedication to duty and to safety.

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  • Claire Marriott

    If their reporter couldn’t speak to the source he shouldn’t have run the piece. It’s lazy journalism and it’s immoral!

  • Derry O Donnell

    I was going to disseminate the Mail’s response but thankfully someone else has done it for me.
    Look out for the screenshots of the tweets! http://onlinejournalismblog.com/2010/01/28/another-newspaper-that-doesnt-know-copyright-law-or-ethics/

  • NYCGuy

    Erm, this Dailymail damage limitation exercise, seems to try and explain it all away as follows, …she published it on her blog, therefore we can do whatever we want with it.

    Now this is odd, especially since papers like the dailymail have aired grievances about people using *their* content without permission etc. Its fair game for them to do it, but when people link to their articles, or use any of their stuff without payment or permission (even though, by their own logic its been published publicly also) then its wrong. What utter nonsense, but typical of that paper.

    The Editor should be fired, and the dailymail needs to apologize immediately. This is a Disgrace.

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  • Tony Frattaroli

    As long as these RAGS and their like are allowed to get away with this type of journalism then they will continue to do it. Maybe this could be a marker for the future thats if the Press Complaints Committee bothered their asses doing something about it.

  • Harriet Walet

    Regarding Mrs. Schregardus’ horrific ordeal at the hands of an Irish Mail on Sunday journalist…

    This is the article and her rebuttal plus an online petition if you feel as outraged as most of us in Ireland do of the total disregard of Mrs. Schregardus’ privacy.

    http://twitpic.com/zka77/full
    http://www.petitionspot.com/petitions/schregardus/

  • Brian

    In their rebuttal the Irish Mail On Sunday are of the opinion that the creative writing found in a blog is “little different from giving a TV interview…” etc and insist that once published on the internet it is more or less ‘open season’ on the work and Mrs Schregardus has no legal write to copyright protection. Not so. An interview is given with the knowledge that it is being freely broadcast as a piece of information which will be heard by the public as it was intended by its originator. A piece of creative writing, whether in a newspaper or internet blog, is to be read as intended by its originator BUT copyright laws prevent it from being re-used without the written approval of the author. How would the Mail react to an article, or a picture from any of their cameramen being lifted from one of their publications without prior permission and a hefty fee? Incidentally, I am not going to comment on the use of the copyright protected picture of herself and her cat, used by an online magazine with her permission, as I read elsewhere that action is being taken by the Paris based publishers of the magazine, who secured the legal rights to publication. I suspect the Irish Mail on Sunday may have used their British law team to word the rebuttal, however, Irish Copyright Law clearly states “There is no system of registration for copyright protection in Ireland as copyright arises automatically on the creation of an original work. You do not need to publish your work, to put a copyright notice on it or do anything else to be covered by copyright – protection is free and automatic”. Covering the event of a journalist doing a ‘cut-and-paste’ job on an original work, the Copyright Association clearly protects against this heinous practice with its Moral Rights section which states “The Moral Rights of interest to authors are: the paternity right (the right to be identified as the author of the work); the integrity right (THE RIGHT TO PREVENT MUTILATION, DISTORTION OR OTHER DEROGATORY ALTERATIONS OF THE WORK) and the right of false attribution”.
    This story is going to run and run and the newspaper will further lose the moral ground. But it will also make things harder for the conscientious journalist to tackle the real culprits, the institutions, banks, politicians etc who deserve to be investigated, as privacy laws become more restrictive. The Irish Mail on Sunday would be doing us all a favour if it made a grovelling apology to this young lady – and, as a token of goodwill, gave her a cheque to pay for a stress-reducing holiday in Barbados for herself, husband and cat…!

  • Anon

    Why would she have needed permission from her union to speak to a journalist regarding her personal blog? It sounds like she had been led to believe it was about the industrial action.

    The “journalist” says he had no contact details for her except for Twitter .. it was an article on her workplace .. does this mean he was too lazy to even look up the Golden Pages for a number for the Shannon Tower?

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