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January 28 2010

16:09

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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