Accuracy, truth main complaints about press

 

COMPLAINTS OVER accuracy and privacy accounted for the bulk of complaints to the Press Ombudsman regarding newspaper and magazine articles last year.

Members of the public made 315 complaints to the ombudsman, a decline of 10 per cent over the previous year.

Truth and accuracy were the main sources of complaint (116), followed by privacy (90), fairness and honesty (44) and distinguishing fact and comment (40).

At the launch of its annual report, ombudsman Prof John Horgan said the number of complaints made reflected the value that members of the public place on such matters.

He also said the internet was increasingly coming to the fore as an issue in privacy cases as publications use sources such as blogs, Facebook and Twitter for material.

“Complaints on use of this material underlines the risks run by members of the public who blithely put material into the public domain, heedless of the potential consequences of media interest in their activities. The web is, by and large, a private space,” he wrote in the annual report.

In two complaints decided on by the ombudsman last year, the content of blogs featured prominently.

In “Schregardus and Irish Mail on Sunday”, a reporter used the content of a complainant’s blog which embarrassed the person. The newspaper subsequently published a clarification which was deemed by the ombudsman to constitute remedial action.

A similar complaint was made in “Bopp and the Irish Mail on Sunday” but was not upheld by the ombudsman. In this case, he said the case differed because the material had been adequately sourced by the newspaper from the complainant’s public Facebook page and Twitter account.

Prof Horgan said freedom of the press did not exist for the press itself. Rather, it was to be exercised for and on behalf of the public.

“Some recent examples are relevant. Would the phenomenon of child physical and sexual abuse still be under wraps if we did not have a free press?

“Those who have read the small print of Judge Moriarty’s report will note he singles out two instances of information disclosed by the media . . . which prompted him to extend his investigation in significant ways.”

With the increase in news gathering and reporting increasing on the internet, chairman of the Press Council Daithí Ó Ceallaigh said web-based organisations or publications could benefit by joining its independent regulatory regime.

“When this happens – and at least one new web-based organisation has already been accepted as one of the recent new members of the council – we are ready to play a positive role in light of our own experience in support of the highest possible journalistic standards.”

Most complaints – 224 – were not processed because the complainants did not pursue their objections or there was no prima facie evidence of a breach in the code of practice.

Just two serious complaints deemed to be significant or complex ended up being referred to the Press Council of Ireland for its consideration.

PRESS COUNCIL DECISIONS OMBUDSMAN BROUGHT TWO CASES

The Press Ombudsman can refer significant or complex complaints to the Press Council for its consideration. Two such complaints were referred last year:

Máire Begg and the Sunday Independent

The Press Council upheld a complaint by the wife of trade union leader David Begg who argued that an article in the Sunday Independentwas a breach of her right to privacy.

The article which appeared under the headline “Geraghty’s des res and the house Jack ‘built’ ” focused on the homes and salaries of trade union leaders. This followed a controversial proposal by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions that tax should be applied to so-called “trophy homes”.

The council decided the photograph of Ms Begg’s home, together with details of its location and a reference to security arrangements, was “not essential to achieving the purposes of the story”, and upheld her complaint.

Ryanair and The Irish Times

The Press Council found there was not a breach of its code of conduct in a complaint by Ryanair regarding an article in The Irish Times.

The article – headlined “The subsidies that keep Ryanair afloat” – stated that the airline received “huge subsidies” from European airports.

Ryanair argued that the article breached the code of conduct on a number of counts, including its provisions relating to truth and accuracy.

In its decision the council noted that the newspaper had earlier accepted the headline did not reflect the contents of the article and offered to publish a correction, and did so.

Ryanair did not consider this to be a satisfactory response. The newspaper also offered a right of reply, after the company complained to the Ombudsman, but this was turned down.

The council concluded that while the headline had breached the code of practice, the newspaper had remedied the matter by offering a correction.