Rabbitte open to Leveson-style Irish press debate

Tue, May 29, 2012, 01:00

MINISTER FOR Communications Pat Rabbitte has said that he does not think Irish reporters are using some of the “more odious practices” uncovered by the Leveson inquiry into UK press standards.

He was speaking at the launch of the annual report of the Press Council and the Press Ombudsman in Dublin.

“I don’t believe – a dangerous statement – but I don’t believe that some of the more odious practices exposed at the Leveson inquiry are present in Ireland,” Mr Rabbitte said. “But it does raise some very major questions about the nexus between journalism and politics at the most senior levels, and I think a debate on that is healthy,” he said.

Mr Rabbitte said a little tension between journalists and politicians was “a healthy thing and this should not prevent either journalists or politicians from engaging in public debate about some of the issues that we now see being delved into more deeply at the Leveson inquiry”.

Press Council chairman Dáithí O’Ceallaigh said Lord Leveson had already expressed an interest in the workings of the Irish press watchdog. The Press Council and Press Ombudsman’s office were set up almost five years ago to give members of the public a quick and fair method of having complaints about newspaper and magazine coverage heard.

He said the chairman of the Press Complaints Commission in Britain recently had a “lengthy meeting” with the Press Council and the Press Ombudsman.

“Quite a lot of material and matters were discussed at that meeting,” he said. “The fact that they came here at all, and those discussions, reflect the fact that Leveson himself and a number of the witnesses at the inquiry in Britain have already publicly expressed their interest in the origins, the structure and the functions of the Press Council and the Press Ombudsman in Ireland.”

The annual report of the Press Council and Press Ombudsman shows that complaints about the truth and accuracy of articles accounted for one-third of all complaints made to the ombudsman’s office last year.

The Press Ombudsman, Prof John Horgan, decided on 42 complaints, upholding 40 per cent of them. He said the volume of complaints received by his office had remained at roughly the same level as in previous years.

Complaints about prejudice accounted for 23.5 per cent of complaints last year – a significant jump on the 2010 figure of 9.6 per cent. This was explained by the large number of complaints about two articles. One Sunday Independent article by Eamon Delaney, called “Loud and proud gays want to take over rest of society”, received 39 complaints. They were not upheld.

The second article, “Sterilising junkies may seem harsh but it makes sense”, by Ian O’Doherty, appeared in the Irish Independent and received 27 complaints. They were upheld “because it was likely to cause grave offence to or stir up hatred against individuals or groups addicted to drugs on the basis of their illness”.

The Press Ombudsman, who is appointed by the Press Council, is the first port of call for people who want to complain about articles in publications that are members of the council.

Decisions by the ombudsman can be appealed to the Press Council, whose decision is final. The Press Ombudsman can also refer significant or complex complaints directly to the Press Council for decision.

Mr O’Ceallaigh said decisions would have to be taken about how the Press Ombudsman and the council could extend its services to bona-fide web-based publications.

“The values of journalism are not platform-specific and consumers of the new web-based media are also entitled to the best practice standards and to appropriate forms of redress,” he said.

PRESS OMBUDSMAN RULINGS KEY POINTS

The Press Ombudsman ruled on 42 complaints about articles in the press last year.

Most complaints were about truth and accuracy, followed by prejudice.

His rulings were appealed in 22 cases – 15 appeals were made by the complainants. No appeal was successful.

Two articles generated 66 complaints about prejudice. Complaints about one article were upheld and complaints about the other rejected.

The Press Ombudsman dealt with several complaints about insensitive coverage of inquests.

Many inquiries to the office of the Press Ombudsman are not ruled on by the ombudsman as they are either outside the remit of the office or are resolved informally or through conciliation.