State's first Press Ombudsman appointed

 

Academic, author and former Labour TD Dr John Horgan has been appointed as the State's first Press Ombudsman.

Dr Horgan starts work next month and from November he will be able to deal with the public as part of a new complaints procedure funded by the newspaper industry.

He called yesterday for the reintroduction of the Defamation Bill as soon as possible, saying this was in the interest of everyone who desired an effective complaints mechanism.

He said he was satisfied he would have the resources and the powers needed to perform his job effectively and independently. "However, it's an evolving situation and we'll have to suck it and see."

"The newspapers themselves are totally committed to this initiative. They want to see it working well and will do whatever necessary to see that it does."

The announcement was made by the chairman of the Press Council of Ireland, Prof Thomas Mitchell, who said that Dr Horgan's appointment marked "the beginning of a new era for Irish media".

"This means that Ireland finally has a complaints mechanism that is free, easy to use, totally independent and available to every citizen," said Prof Mitchell. "Anyone who feels aggrieved by a newspaper article or photograph can avail of this mechanism without having to risk spending a fortune by going to court."

Critics have claimed that the new council and ombudsman will act as a "fig-leaf" for the newspaper industry. The ombudsman has no power to impose fines on newspapers that offend the code of practice and half the members of the council are industry-appointed.

However, Dr Horgan said that his appointment demonstrated the industry's commitment to providing an independent, effective and responsive structure for handling complaints.

Both the press council and the ombudsman would defend sound journalistic principles and the role of the print media in society.

There were 25 applications for the post of ombudsman, which were considered by an independent appointments committee before the final decision was made by the press council.

Members of the public who are unhappy with their treatment by a newspaper are advised to take the matter up with the publication first. If they do no receive satisfaction, they are invited to make a complaint to the ombudsman by letter or e-mail. Where the ombudsman upholds a complaint, he can ask the newspaper to publish his decision in a prominent place. Difficult and unresolved cases may be referred to the press council.

Dr Horgan retired last year as professor of journalism at Dublin City University. He began his career in the media in the Evening Press in 1962 and wrote about religion and education while a staff journalist at The Irish Times. He became a member of the Seanad in 1969 and also served in the Dáil and the European Parliament.