Praise for complaints system after release of Press Ombudsman's report

 

AGGRIEVED READERS made over 370 complaints about newspapers and magazines last year during the Press Ombudsmans first year of work, his annual report reveals.

Ombudsman Prof John Horgan made decisions in just 35 cases, of which one-third were decided in favour of the complainant. A further 12 cases were resolved by conciliation.

The difference between the number of complaints and adjudications arises from the fact that many complaints were not followed up or related to articles in publications that are not members of the Press Council. Other complaints were rejected because the articles concerned were written before the ombudsmans office opened in January 2008.

“It’s not our fault that a large proportion of complaints are not proceeded with,” said Prof Horgan, adding that “people know where to find us when they need us”. He pointed out that the Press Complaints Commission in the UK processed just 45 complaints last year in a far larger market.

Reviewing the performance of the Press Council of Ireland and the Office of the Press Ombudsman in their annual report published yesterday, council chairman Prof Tom Mitchell said the innovative and effective regulatory system offered significant benefits to the press and public.

The two bodies, which were established by the print media industry with support from the National Union of Journalists, say they operate independently of the Government and the press industry. Prof Mitchell said they offered a complaints mechanism which was “far less forbidding than the often daunting, slow and expensive route of the courts”.

Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern said the new system had made great progress but called on media outlets not to take ethical shortcuts or lower standards in response to economic pressures.

Prof Mitchell said no publication had refused to accept the outcome, even where this was unpalatable. “I can say with confidence after the experience of the last year that any fears about the independence of the system can be laid aside.”

Of the 372 complaints received by the ombudsman last year, 81 were not processed and 45 were in respect of publications outside the Press Council. Of the remaining 246 complaints, 113 were not followed up beyond a preliminary hearing as the complainants did not pursue the case within the three months allowed.

Some 41 cases are still being processed and 92 are fully processed. Of the latter, 26 were ruled out on first reading, 11 were withdrawn by the complainant and six were postponed because of legal proceedings. Of the 35 decisions made by the ombudsman, 13 complaints were upheld, 18 were rejected while in four cases, the publication was judged to have offered sufficient remedial action.

Six cases involved the Irish Independentand five the Evening Herald. Two cases related to articles in The Irish Times. The ombudsman referred two further cases, considered to be complex or significant, directly to the council.