Media complaints can be settled without lawyers, says watchdog

 

EXPENSIVE LEGAL processes will be invoked much less frequently following the enactment of the Defamation Act, according to the Press Ombudsman, Prof John Horgan.

In a speech to members of the Regional Newspapers and Publishers Association in Tullamore, Co Offaly yesterday, he said that the completion of the procedures envisaged by the Act would create a radically new system of accountability for the print media.

“The office of the Press Ombudsman and the Press Council of Ireland hope to be an integral part of this new system, offering complainants and publications alike the possibility of resolving the vast majority of complaints without recourse to the courts or to legal advisers,” he said. A person did not need to engage a solicitor to make a complaint against a newspaper, he said, and doing so did not add to the possibility that a complaint would be upheld.

“In fact, although engaging a solicitor is of course a right available to anyone, this can sometimes slow down the whole process, because publications which receive solicitors’ letters, either directly or through our office, tend to have them dealt with by their own solicitors rather than directly by the editor,” he said. “This can add to the complexity of negotiations, the length of time for processing complaints and may, in some circumstances, reduce the possibility of conciliation between the parties.”

He said the Code of Practice for Newspapers and Periodicals was not a statute but a voluntary and very effective framework within which many complaints can be satisfactorily resolved with goodwill on all sides.

In the first six months of this year, a greater number of complaints were successfully conciliated by his office than were upheld by him. “This is proof positive that direct contacts between editors and complainants, managed by my office, offer by far the best prospect of arriving at a mutually satisfactory resolution of complaints.”