Press Ombudsman reveals complaints in 2015

Almost half of the submissions received last year related to truth and accuracy

Almost half of the complaints received by the Press Ombudsman in 2015 were to do with truth and accuracy, according to the office’s annual report.

Truth and accuracy was the largest cause of complaint last year.

Privacy, including the privacy of children, was the second largest cause of complaint and distinguishing fact and comment was the third largest.

The joint report of the Press Council of Ireland and the Office of the Press Ombudsman also found that of the 278 complaints received by the ombudsman last year, almost half (133) were judged to be outside the remit of the office.


A further 79 complaints were not pursued by the complainant.

Thirty-four complaints were decided by the ombudsman, Peter Feeney.

Of those 34, 10 complaints were upheld while 15 were not.

In the remaining cases, sufficient action was deemed to have been taken by the publication in relation to the complaint or there was insufficient evidence to make a decision.

Among the complaints upheld was one against, which published a video of a child giving a speech in a school debate.

The school had given permission for a journalist for the website to attend and record the opening.

However, the ombudsman said he felt the sensitive nature of what the child was engaged in required the editor to seek confirmation that the child’s parents and the school authorities were happy that his contribution could be published on the website.

He noted that the video had been taken down as soon as the child’s parents contacted the publisher, but by then it had been shared widely.

“This decision highlights the need for greater awareness of the privacy of minors and the loss of control of material posted online with such easy means of material being posted on other websites,” the ombudsman said.

“It is very important that editors are conscious of the particular concerns about privacy in regard to children,” he said.

Court reporting

Two of the complaints upheld involved court reporting.

In one case involving the Donegal News, the ombudsman found the paper had failed to respond in a timely fashion after it was informed that “something that it had reported accurately as having been said in court was subsequently found to be inaccurate”.

In a case involving the Sligo Weekender, the ombudsman found that, in a court report of a case involving a breach of a safety order, the newspaper had “effectively identified children by giving their parents’ names and the ages of the children”.

Decisions made by the ombudsman can be appealed to the Press Council.

In his address in the joint report, chairman of the council, Dáithí O’Ceallaigh, suggested that, as part of a review of the Defamation Act 2009, the Government should consider regulating web-based publishing by broadcasters, which is unregulated at present.

Launching the report, UK media commentator Roy Greenslade said Facebook could be the final nail in the coffin of newspaper.

He described Facebook as “a parasite, feeding off its host, journalism, and gradually draining its life blood, content”.

“It wants us to believe this relationship is a mutually beneficial one, landlord and tenant, but the reality is the landlord, by drawing away audiences from mainstream news providers and luring away advertisers, is actually bankrupting us, the journalistic tenants,” he said.

He said a study in the US revealed 30 per cent of adult Americans regarded Facebook as their key source of all news. Last year, its profits from advertising were $17.9 billion.

The effect of social media on journalism has been disastrous, Mr Greenslade said, and Facebook could well be in the process of “killing off the goose that laid the golden egg”.

He also said he feared whether single media ownership could happen in Ireland, as had happened in New Zealand.

Referring to businessman Denis O’Brien, he said the rise of the internet was only a contributory factor to the fact that one person in this country had attracted ownership of the best selling national newspaper, 14 regional newspapers and two national radio stations.

“As in many other countries … the worry is the market-leading owner could be the last man standing and then ... his commitment to press freedom becomes a very pertinent question.”


Mr Greenslade predicted the the bulk of the press would disappear and said he was surprised the decline has been so “suddenly great” in recent years. He said the media is on the “precipice of the cliff fall”.

“We could hang on there for some considerable time, it is really difficult to know the tipping point, but clearly if advertising returns are so low and going to get lower it is going to be difficult,” he said.

Following on a suggestion from UK academic Justin Schlosberg, he said a levy could be charged on social media “titans”, including Google and Facebook, to help pay for journalism.

Fiona Gartland

Fiona Gartland

Fiona Gartland is a crime writer and former Irish Times journalist