Columnist Says He Would Cheer the Death of Addicts

By Dirk Hanson 06/21/11

But Irish press ombudsman says drug users are entitled to hate speech protection.

“Feral, worthless scumbags.”
Photo via colettepatterns

He said what? Really? Back in February, in a column suggesting that sterilizing addicts might not be a bad idea, rabble-rousing Irish Independent columnist Ian O’Doherty got down to business, referring to drug users as “vermin,” and “feral, worthless scumbags.” And if that strikes you as a wee bit diplomatic, try this: “If every junkie in this country were to die tomorrow I would cheer.”

We particularly like “feral,” which Merriam-Webster defines as “relating to, or suggestive of a wild beast.” Like an exotic jungle cat or great ape that you have to capture or subdue or kill.
Harsh. Actually, more than harsh: in violation of the Irish Code of Practice for Newspapers and Magazines. This judgement was rendered by the Office of the Press Ombudsman in Ireland, which handles press complaints, in this case brought by a collection of Irish drug services, including our friends at Harm Reduction International (IHRA) and the Irish Needle Exchange Forum (INEF). The Press Ombudsman found that the disgusting column “was likely to cause grave offence to or stir up hatred against individuals or groups addicted to drugs on the basis of their illness.” This violates Principle 8 of the Newspaper Code, which, in addition to illness and disability, extends the principle to race, religion, color, gender, sexual orientation, and age.

“We are extremely gratified by this decision,” said Rick Lines, Executive Director of Harm Reduction International. “We believe this to be the first time that drug users have been identified by a media watchdog as an identifiable group, entitled to protections against hate-type speech in the press.”

"Drug use is ultimately a health issue and needs to be addressed as such," according to Tim Bingham, Coordinator of the Irish Needle Exchange Forum. "Sensationalist media reporting undermines discussion of pragmatic policy on dealing with drugs,” he said.

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]