Patrick Kelly and 'The Irish Times'

Fri, Jun 15, 2012, 01:00

DECISION OF THE PRESS COUNCIL:THE PRESS Ombudsman has decided to uphold a complaint by Mr Patrick Kelly that an article published in The Irish Times on 22 July 2011 about a legal case in which he was involved was in breach of the Code of Practice for Newspapers and Magazines.

The article, headlined “Teacher loses challenge to UCD course ruling” was a brief summary of a lengthy and complex decision by the Court of Justice of the European Union on a number of issues referred to that Court by the High Court in Ireland in connection with a long-running legal case involving the complainant and the authorities of University College, Dublin.

Shortly after receiving a letter of complaint from the complainant the newspaper published, without further reference to the complainant, a statement in its “Corrections and Clarifications” column, about the article under complaint. The complainant, when he had subsequently been apprised of its contents, rejected this as insufficient in itself and also because, he asserted, it reiterated some of the inaccurate material contained in the original article.

The newspaper then offered to arrange a direct link at the end of the online article to the correction and clarification, or for the correction and clarification to appear directly below the article, and offered to change the headline to a direct synopsis of the opening paragraph of the article. These offers were rejected by the complainant on the basis that these additional offers still did not adequately correct or clarify the original article.

The issues detailed in Mr Kelly’s formal complaint to the newspaper, dated 28 July 2011, were supported by persuasive evidence that the summation of the case in the article in question raised a number of issues of accuracy under Principle 1. These were (1) that although the complainant’s action against UCD has yet to be decided by the national court, the headline and introductory sentence stated that the complainant had lost his challenge to the university; (2) that Mr Justice McKechnie had decided in March to uphold a Circuit Court decision, which was not the case; (3) that five questions – not four, as asserted in the article – were referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union, and that they did not all, as stated, relate to EU anti-discrimination law; and (4) that the court’s finding was not accurately reflected in the article’s summary of it.

As the corrections and clarifications either published by the newspaper or subsequently offered to the complainant failed to clarify or correct these issues adequately, the Press Ombudsman decided that Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) and – on the basis of the same considerations – Principle 7 (Court Reporting) of the Code of Practice had been breached.

The Complainant and the Newspaper both appealed the decision of the Press Ombudsman to the Press Council of Ireland.

Decision of the Press Council of Ireland: The appeals from the Complainant and from the Newspaper were each heard separately by the Press Council at its meeting on 28th May 2012. The Council decided to reject the appeals and to affirm the decision of the Press Ombudsman in both cases.