Communicorp and The Irish Times
A sub-committee of the Press Council of Ireland decided that The Irish Times took sufficient remedial action to resolve a complaint made by Communicorp about an article published by The Irish Times on 12 September 2017.
Communicorp complained that the article, headlined “Why I won’t be appearing on Newstalk any more”, was a breach of Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy), Principle 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment), Principle 3 (Fair Procedures and Honesty) and Principle 4 (Respect for Rights) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.
In highlighting the context of its complaint, Communicorp pointed out that the article was previously the subject of a complaint to the Editor of The Irish Times by Newstalk’s Managing Editor, who sought a right of reply. A right of reply by the Managing Editor was published on 16 September. Communicorp subsequently submitted a complaint to the Office of the Press Ombudsman stating that on careful reflection it had decided to seek a retraction and apology for the comments contained in the article which, it said, stated on a national platform that Newstalk, and by clear implication its senior management team and staff, were flagrantly, systematically and staggeringly sexist.
The Irish Times stood over the article and said that the column represented the opinions of the writer and appeared on a page with a large opinion heading. It stated that the writer’s opinions were drawn on statements of fact, and it outlined some of the facts on which it said the article was based. It acknowledged that Communicorp was entitled to disagree with those opinions which is why, it said, it had published a lengthy reply from Newstalk’s Managing Editor.
Communicorp responded stating the article was fundamentally flawed and poorly researched. It said that the newspaper’s response dealt with none of the issues in any real way, and it questioned the facts upon which the newspaper said the article was based.
The Press Ombudsman exercised his right to refer the complaint to the Press Council of Ireland for decision. The Press Council Chairman activated a sub-committee of the Council to consider the complaint.
Articles that are presented as opinion pieces, as this one clearly was, enjoy a wide measure of protection under the Preamble to the Code of Practice.
In the immediate aftermath of the publication of the article, the Managing Editor of Newstalk sought and was granted a right of reply on behalf of Newstalk’s management team and its employees. The right of reply was published four days after the article under complaint and was of a similar length to the article.
In the view of the sub-committee, the publication of the right of reply by The Irish Times represented sufficient remedial action on its part to resolve the matter.
7 December 2017
The complainant appealed the decision to the Press Council of Ireland
Decision of the Press Council
The complainant appealed the decision of the Press Council sub-committee on the grounds that there was an error in the application of the Code of Practice by the sub-committee.
The Press Council considered the appeal at its meeting on 9 March 2018. In reviewing the correspondence on file it noted that there were four options open to the sub-committee when coming to its decision on the complaint. These options were: to uphold the complaint, not to uphold the complaint, that the newspaper’s response to the complaint was sufficient to resolve the complaint, or that there was insufficient evidence available to make a decision one way or the other. These options were notified in advance to the complainant.
In these circumstances, the Press Council found that the sub-committee did not err in its application of the Code of Practice in coming to the view that the publication of a right of reply by The Irish Times represented sufficient remedial action on its part to resolve the matter. The Council took account of the timely response of The Irish Times, the length of the reply as published and its prominent position in the newspaper in determining that the action taken by the newspaper was sufficient to justify the sub-committee’s determination of the complaint.
The decision can also be viewed at www.pressombudsman.ie.