Most of 351 complaints against press about truth and accuracy

 

MEMBERS OF the public made 351 complaints to the Press Ombudsman last year, an increase of almost 5 per cent on 2008 figures.

Complaints about truth and accuracy accounted for the majority of objections, followed by concerns about privacy being breached.

Some 157 complaints were not pursued by the complainants, while 53 were found to be outside the remit of the office. Decisions were made on 33 cases and 15 were successfully conciliated.

Press Ombudsman Prof John Horgan said it was noteworthy that virtually half of all decisions made by his office 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.”

Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern 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 annual report refers to one complaint made on behalf of Minister for Health Mary Harney about an Irish Daily Mailarticle with the headline “Harney Lied to Justify Cuts at Crumlin”. It found that the code of practice had been breached because the author of the article, Prof John Crown, had not made this allegation in the article.

The ombudsman upheld a complaint by the parents of a deceased man about the decision of the Sunday Worldto publish photographs of his dismembered body parts.

In another case, a man complained about a News of the Worldarticle that implied he had been involved in questionable activities. The ombudsman did not uphold the complaint because it found the newspaper had made it clear that the statements about the activities did not come from the publication, but from anonymous Garda sources.

The ombudsman referred five cases to the Press Council. He can take this action if he believes a case is complex or significant.

Two of the cases were cross-complaints, where Kevin Myers of the Irish Independenthad complained about an Irish Timesarticle by Carol Coulter on a previous Press Council decision involving him.

He said the article failed to mention that several complaints against him had not been upheld and had given a misleading impression. The Press Council upheld Myers’s complaint. Coulter in turn complained about an article by Myers on her article. She said it was an “unwarranted attack” on her professionalism and integrity.

The council found that, “while the tone of the article was provocative and the language often intemperate”, it did not breach the code.

The council did not uphold the other three complaints. Two referred to complaints about photographs in the Irish Sunand the Irish Daily Star, of the body of the late Michael Dwyer who was killed in Bolivia. The other complaint referred to an allegation of a vendetta by the Sunday Worldagainst the “House of Prayer”on Achill.

Launching the report, Mr Ahern said it should be remembered that the Press Council’s code of practice related to the 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.”