Press ombudsman received 464 complaints in 2018

Objections to ‘rosarectomy’ cartoon, not upheld, caused surge on previous year

The press ombudsman, Peter Feeney, made decisions in 30 of 464 complaints in 2018. He upheld 10 of them, double the number in 2017. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

The press ombudsman, Peter Feeney, made decisions in 30 of 464 complaints in 2018. He upheld 10 of them, double the number in 2017. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

The Office of the Press Ombudsman received 464 complaints in 2018, up from 330 the previous year, according to its annual report published on Wednesday.

The ombudsman, Peter Feeney, made decisions in 30 of these complaints and upheld 10 of them, double the number he upheld in 2017.

Six of the 10 complaints upheld related to privacy issues.

More than half the total complaints – some 272 – were not pursued beyond the preliminary stage by the complainant. These cases included some 158 complaints about a cartoon published in the Sunday Independent in the wake of the Eighth Amendment referendum.

The cartoon, which attracted 160 complaints altogether, depicted a surgeon removing a set of rosary beads from a female patient. The accompanying caption read “the ‘rosarectomy’”, with the surgeon saying “mission accomplished . . . obstruction removed”.

Mr Feeney examined one complaint about the cartoon and did not uphold it, ruling that the cartoon had not breached the “prejudice” principle of the Press Council’s code of practice.

But the cartoon complaints meant the prejudice principle was the most commonly cited reason for a complaint to his office, overtaking alleged breaches of truth and accuracy.

Privacy matters

An alleged breach of privacy was the third most common reason for a complaint. Privacy matters, such as those relating to coverage of funerals, were also the subject of most of the advisory notices occasionally issued by the ombudsman’s office to member publications.

Mr Feeney said there was “always a balance to be struck between the public’s right to know and the privacy of individuals” and that the principle in the code was “deliberately couched in very general terms” to allow for cases where it is “demonstrably in the public interest to publish some information”.

Some 111 complaints were found to be outside the ombudsman’s remit, while 24 were resolved by the publication’s editor to the satisfaction of the complainant, according to the annual report of the Press Council of Ireland and the Office of the Press Ombudsman.