Kate, Broadsheet, The Irish Times, And The Mysterious Case Of The Disappearing Articles

Update: It’s come to my attention this morning that Broadsheet have reinstated the original articles and included this new one about their reasoning at the time. It’s a welcome development, and an interesting insight into just what led to the editing of the original Times piece and their work. It’s especially heartening to know that Kate’s mother felt so strongly on the subject and actually contacted them directly. I know that this has become a discussion about the actions of The Communications Clinic, but I hope the comments can also begin to provide opinions, solutions and anecdotes around the issue of mental health in the workplace.

As many of you are probably well aware from my various tweeting and Facebook-ing, the story of my old friend Kate Fitzgerald – who lost her battle with depression at the end of August – resurfaced over the past few days with an article in The Irish Times.

Back in August, Kate had written an anonymous piece (under the typically flair-some pseudonym Grace Ringwood) entitled “Employers failing people with mental health issues”, where she detailed her experience as someone suffering from severe depression while trying to hold down a job. Understandably anonymous, as despite the particular difficulties she was going through she was someone who valued both her work and her sense of professionalism. The problem with this article came a little later, and to a head this past weekend.

You see, by the time Kate’s article was printed on September 9th, she was already dead.

The piece detailed an ongoing struggle with depression, especially difficult to read as it was written by a woman capable of communicating coherently and logically about her own pain. It also, as the headline suggests, dealt with the ongoing issue of employers’ treatment of those with mental health issues. The law in Ireland is a little unclear, but Kate’s article detailed a workplace where her time in hospital after a suicide attempt was met with a less than sympathetic response.

In Peter Murtagh’s fantastic piece on Kate a few days ago, he detailed how the printing of this article led to a phone call from her father – who recognised the tone and experience of this anonymous woman as his daughter’s. Kate was already gone, but Murtagh’s piece went some way to explaining and discussing how a young woman with so much talent, potential and warmth was no less susceptible to depression. A fitting tribute to a truly exceptional person.

But when the article was printed, and the link back to that original anonymous piece was made, the waters became a little murkier. For in her piece, Kate had made some pretty damning statements about where she worked – and once the link was established questions began to arise about her employer, PR company The Communications Clinic.

Where The Irish Times had made the link, bloggers extraordinaire broadsheet.ie finished the thought with a blog post entitled “A Breakdown In Communications” to put the three articles together – their own original piece about Kate, and the two from The Irish Times. This was, in my opinion, a very powerful piece for discussion, as employment law around the world is so incredibly behind on how to deal with mental health issues – and we are only now beginning to say that things can and should be done. It’s all very well to say that we should speak up about depression, but what good is it when we feel our jobs might be at risk? On Facebook, on Twitter, and on Broadsheet, there was a general feeling that a new type of conversation about mental health might just be beginning. And yet.

I don’t post links to the sterling work that Broadsheet did, because those articles no longer exist. They were removed at some point yesterday, without any explanation.

What’s perhaps more disheartening is that the original piece that Kate wrote has been altered, with any reference to her employers being removed. Except, unfortunately, the line “I do not blame my employer”, which remains – lacking the context of the original piece.

It’s not hard to see why this happened. Once the anonymity of the original piece was breached some serious questions came up about what this might mean for The Communications Clinic, and no doubt a terse phone call or two was made (either from them or from the IT’s lawyers). Kate’s original article painted a picture of mistakes in how she was treated, as an example of something that is no doubt endemic across Irish workplaces.

I’m not necessarily suggesting that these changes were wrong. Much of my journalistic, legal, and even moral sensibilities says it would have been incorrect to leave accusations out there that could never be truly investigated or necessarily corroborated (although…). But the way in which the details of Kate’s experience have been scrubbed from the record without a mention does leave me concerned.

I know it was the experience for me, and for many of Kate’s friends, that these words were some of the truest statements she made about what she was going through – and something of a final word for those of us who never received one before her death.

Things change in journalism, and the Internet has provided permanent record where once loose paper came and went. Sometimes a mistake has to be corrected after the fact. But a discussion about mental health issues was beginning, and has now been hampered by revisions that were addressed by neither The Irish Times nor Broadsheet.

That this happened so quietly is an unfortunate reflection of the media’s ongoing treatment of depression – as an issue to be taken up for a feature some odd Saturday, and dropped just as quickly. When the truth is that mental health issues are part of the fabric of everyday life.

Kate is gone. Gary Speed is gone. And yet today you have a journalist admitting that he hounded a young woman to suicide, expressing the remorse of someone who stole a chocolate biscuit from the corner shop. Because far as we have come, we are still trapped in simplistic ideas of mental health issues.

There is a wider discussion here, and it’s tricky in so many ways because of one big word that Kate herself used: “blame”. Nobody likes to think of there ever being any sense of blame when someone makes the decision to end their own life – and rightly so, as it is a complex mixture of biology, circumstance and chance that leads them there. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be discussing how we treat each other.

If we live in a world where different people are biologically predisposed to reacting certain ways to stressful situations, do we not have a responsibility to change how that world works?

Is it right to have jobs which are so high stress that people who burn out are blamed for not being able to “cut it”? Is it right to splash the innermost details of an innocent person’s life across tabloids and shout “whoops” when the damage done becomes irreversible? Is it right that there is no accounting and no compensation for those people who have to work twice as hard just to get out of bed in the morning?

No, it’s not about blame. But it is about a sense of communal responsibility to each other. To be depressed is to have a disability. A barrier that stops you experiencing the world as others would. In other forms, we legislate so that those suffering from disabilities can experience a normal life. But here, we lag behind.

That is the discussion I want to have, and it’s unfortunate that the two steps forward of the past week are being etched away by the revisions of the last 24 hours.

Let’s keep the conversation going.

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About alfla

Playwright, screenwriter, sometime improv enthusiast and full-time television lover. You know, in THAT way.
This entry was posted in Hey Look At This, Mental Health, Sober Thoughts, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to Kate, Broadsheet, The Irish Times, And The Mysterious Case Of The Disappearing Articles

  1. An excellent summation as usual Al Fla… I will be sure to share this.

  2. Seanear1ey says:

    Broadsheet posted their explanation tonight and removed it after 10mins. Some google cache trickery will help you out.

  3. Laura says:

    Good piece and I really do recognize the problem, but do feel also that certain employers and sometimes clients accept patterns of behavior that would drive even the most emotionally secure person right over the edge. The current cry baby debate Over statutory sick pay exposes a typical mentality amongst some employers that the health and welfare of employees is simply not their concern. I don’t think this is just an issue for people who are already depressed – though indeed they are more vulnerable – but all employees, suppliers and customers.

  4. Nigel says:

    For anyone wishing to read the broadsheet article “A Breakdown in Communications”, it’s online here – http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:P4V9OUdedvUJ:www.broadsheet.ie/2011/11/28/a-breakdown-in-communications/+broadsheet.ie+fitzgerald&cd=3&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=ca&client=firefox-a

    I expect it was the comments section they were really worried about.

    Similarly the pre-edit copy of the Times article “Employers failing people with mental health issues” from September 9th’s copy of the paper is online here: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:_vemZh-BI7oJ:www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2011/0909/1224303758047.html+Employers+Failing+People+With+Mental+Health+Issues&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=ca&client=firefox-a

  5. Paula says:

    I am amazed that the irish times removed the articles. If anyone still has a paper copy it could surface again online.

    Could I suggest that you change “committed suicide” to “died by suicide”. This may seem overly pc but as someone who has experienced a bereavement by suicide, it’s important. Thank you.

  6. Hazel Katherine Larkin says:

    Wonderful piece exceptionally-well put together. Thank you for bringing this to our attention. Unfortunately, while deeply saddened, there is nothing here that surprises me. Least of all the name of Kate’s employer.

  7. kidney says:

    Excellent piece, thanks.

  8. Dave says:

    Broadsheet articles now back up – with explanation
    http://www.broadsheet.ie/2011/11/30/kate-fitzgerald/

  9. Val says:

    Excellent piece. I want to add to your phrase “those people who have to work twice as hard just to get out of bed in the morning”. A lot of people can’t go to bed at night until exhaustion forces sleep. They postpone the worry, restlessness, depressing thoughts and don’t leave enough time for proper sleep. Next day, they suffer, and on, and on.

  10. Jon says:

    Broadsheet have put the articles back up, along with a, frankly, magnificent new one.

    http://www.broadsheet.ie/2011/11/30/kate-fitzgerald/

  11. Michael says:

    Excellent piece. For your information, Braodsheet.ie have put both articles and a full explanation up.
    http://www.broadsheet.ie/2011/11/30/kate-fitzgerald/#comments

  12. Sopwith says:

    Broadsheet have reconsidered… http://bit.ly/s7Xdt6

  13. alfla says:

    Thanks for the heads up, guys (and sorry about the delay in approving posts, was in bed here in Canada!). Have amended the article to reflect the changes.

  14. intrepidtraveller says:

    Great post Alan. I hope this and the re-instated articles will continue to discuss the issues around mental health and depression asthey are such important issues and need to be shared. I found the Peter Murtagh article heart wrenching to read and am utterly devastated by everything that has happened. May memories of Kate be remembered for ever and shared.

  15. Cathal McMahon says:

    Let me start this off by saying that I am not an apologist for the Irish Times, Broadsheet or the Communications Clinic. I am one of that hated breed of tabloid journalists who deals with legal issues in journalism every day. However I do not speak for my paper here.
    With this in mind there is a very good reason why the Irish Times and, to a lesser extent Broadsheet, had to remove these allegations .
    The suggestion in Kate’s original letter was that her employer had acted “illegally” and that their actions had in some way made it difficult for her to carry on working there.
    The Irish Times was able to publish the original piece because it was anonymous and Kate’s workplace was not identifiable.
    However the appearance of this second piece ran a horse and cart through this and by a pretty basic jigsaw, kindly put together by Broadsheet, accused the Communications Clinic of these extremely serious allegations.
    I was shocked that they alluded in any way to the first piece and secondly that it got past their lawyers.
    They have libelled the Communications Clinic and the legal fallout could be huge for the so-called ‘Paper of Record’. The accusations could seriously damage this otherwise pretty well-respected business which survives largely on its reputation.
    Alan it is all well and good to run a form of campaigning journalism but papers and writers cannot go around accusing any business of being negligent to their staff to a point where that worker might consider suicide without first offering a right of reply and secondly investigating the matter fully.
    You know I am all for an open discussion about suicide but do you really have to destroy a company’s good name to have it?
    The Communications Clinic do have questions to answer and they should have been given the chance to answer those by the Irish Times before the publication of last Saturday’s article.
    The decision by the the Times to pull the piece, although insensitive to Kate’s memory and family, was the right one to make in my opinion.

    • alfla says:

      Nice to see another viewpoint on it, and to be honest while I’m all for championing of press freedom etc. I think I made it fairly clear in my piece that I could absolutely see the reasoning behind taking it down. I’m less than impressed with how it was done, and that it may have stymied an important discussion. Hopefully once the outrage about the articles begins to die down it will evolve into a conversation about duty of care when it comes to mental health issues.

      I would also hope that the fantastic response to this over the past day might encourage The Irish Times to explore the issue more fully – a feature on workplace law around mental health is sorely needed, as it’s an issue even I’m unsure about. There isn’t personal culpability in suicide (and I hope nobody believes The Communications Clinic are such monsters) but it also isn’t an act of God. It’s somewhere in the middle, and a more nuanced discussion would help tackle the thorny issues of responsibility, services and support.

    • yankeedoodle says:

      Cathal, I am a corporate lawyer who knows enough about libel and defamation to be dangerous – i.e. I took Media Law in UCD in the late 90s. So I may be completely wrong here but….I have reread the piece a few times and I guess maybe her manager could argue that he/she is identifiable, but I am not sure anything bad was said about them. Everything else is general and vague. As CC/TCC is an entity I do not believe it has standing to sue. Furthermore, one could argue any bad statements, specifically that the employer (which as noted already is a corporate entity) did illegal acts was a comment, rather than a fact, and the comment was fair, in that the belief was honestly held by Kate and, to some extent, by the Irish Times.

      Don’t get me wrong, I am sure any good lawyer would argue to not publish, as why take the risk, but once you have published I think a good lawyer could argue that this is not libel, not defamation, not actionable.

  16. Cathal McMahon says:

    I do agree that the family should have been called to explain that it was being removed but that might simply have been an issue of time.
    Also libel lawyers often advise against any contact with anyone involved in a piece if an issue has arisen.
    I do think a feature on workplace law would be great but I would imagine that the IT will stay well away from anything to do with Kate and the Comms clinic for some time yet.

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