Ahern concerned over press intrusion


All newspapers and periodicals were urged to become members of the Press Council as its second annual report was released today.

The council chairman, Prof Tom Mitchell, said it was now evident that there were "substantial benefits" for all publications in showing they were amenable to an appropriate, responsible form of press regulation.

The 2009 annual report of the Press Council of Ireland and Office of the Press Ombudsman was launched by Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern.

Mr Ahern said it should be remembered that the Press Council's code of practice related both to the traditional "ink stained" print version of newspapers and magazines and to their online versions

"The question of whether publications existing online only, either now or in the future, wish to come under the umbrella of the Press Council and abide by its code of practice is a matter for those publications," he said. "Nothing in the Defamation Act precludes this."

He was critical of the media coverage of Oireachtas issues. "Sometimes the sound-bite takes away from the substantial work that Oireachtas members do on a daily basis in relation to pieces of legislation," he said.

Mr Ahern said there had been a lessening of the involvement of the media in the day-to-day working of the Oireachtas in recent years. "Of course there's been increased interest in the personalities who inhabit the Oireachtas but not in relation to - it has to be said, it's gone the opposite way - in relation to the work of the Oireachtas."

He said it was "a matter of concern" that the greatest number of complaints about the press concerned truth and accuracy. He also expressed concern about the "substantial number" of complaints concerning privacy. "The concentration of complaints under these categories will, I hope, be food for thought for editors."

The office of the Press Ombudsman received 351 complaints last year, compared with 335 complaints in 2008. Some 157complaints were not pursued by the complainant, while 53 were found to be outside the remit of the office. Decisions were made on 33 cases and 15 were successfully conciliated.

The Press Ombudsman, Prof John Horgan, referred five cases to the Press Council. He can refer cases if he believes they are complex or significant.

Prof Horgan said it was noteworthy that virtually half of all the decisions made by the Press Ombudsman either upheld complaints or concluded that the publications had taken, or offered to take, sufficient remedial action to resolve the complaint.

"I think it demonstrates that perhaps we are getting something right," he said.