The Press Ombudsman has upheld a complaint made by Mr Alan Redd that The Irish Times breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland. Other parts of the complaint were not upheld.
On 13 January 2021 The Irish Times published an article online under the headline “Irish buying more gold to safeguard wealth against Covid impact”. The article provided information on a company that provides safe deposit boxes in Ireland and Britain. The company also sources gold for clients. The article quoted the co-founder of the company saying, “Clients are buying gold to protect their savings and pensions”. The article stated that demand for its safe deposit boxes had grown in 2020, “pushing up turnover … by 20 per cent”. The co-founder of the company was also quoted in the article as saying that “Research shows a rise in burglaries, many of them aggravated, in family homes and businesses”.
Mr Redd complained about a number of statements in the article. He complained about the statement that read “Overall demand for its safe deposit boxes grew in 2020, pushing up turnover in (its) core business by 20 per cent”’. Mr Redd said that the company had received TWSS payments (wage subsidy) in 2020, for which a turnover drop of at least 25% was required, so the statement in relation to increased demand for its safe deposit boxes seemed to directly contradict publicly available information from the Revenue Commissioners. He complained that a statement attributed to the company that read “Research shows a rise in burglaries” contradicted publicly available information from the Garda Siochana and the CSO. He also said that a statement in the article that “Lloyds of London insures each (centre) and approves the security measures” was inaccurate as Lloyds of London is not an insurance company.
The Irish Times in a submission to the Office of the Press Ombudsman stated that the article published on 13 January 2021 was “a businessman’s view of his company”. It was not an “investigative piece, or an in-depth examination” of the company and associated companies, but was based on remarks made by its co-founder which were reported in good faith.
In regard to the accuracy or otherwise of the claim in the article that burglaries had increased the editor noted that in 2021 “five pieces have been published that mention the pandemic-related drop in burglaries”. He said that the company operated in Scotland and England and the co-founder of the company did not specify the timeframe in relation to which he made the claim. The editor said that Mr Redd had been invited to submit a letter for publication in which he could “take issue” with the co-founder’s statement on burglaries included in the article.
In regard to the demand for safe deposit boxes the editor questioned how Mr Redd could be so confident that turnover of the company had decreased on the basis of receiving Covid-related subsidies (TWSS). The editor stated, “It is entirely possible that a company might need TWSS in the short term, but that turnover would bounce back later when restrictions eased and consumer confidence started to return”.
In regard to the statement about Lloyds the editor noted that the newspaper had not received a request from Lloyds for a correction or clarification.
In response to the complaint made under Principle 1 of the Code, the editor said that the article was based on an interview with the co-founder of the company and the newspaper reported his remarks in good faith. He said that Mr Redd had drawn his attention to some potential inaccuracies in the article, and that the newspaper had made some edits to the online article to ensure that it did not inadvertently breach Principle 1 of the Code. The editor concluded by stating that the online version of the article had been edited removing the sentence about Lloyds to remove any potential for confusion or inaccuracy, that the headline was changed to make it very clear that the article was based on an interview with the co-founder of the company, and that a reference to fears of burglaries growing which was unattributed was removed. He said that the offer of the publication of a letter from Mr Redd to take issue with a statement on burglaries in the article attributed to the co-founder remained open.
As the complaint could not be resolved by conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision
By amending the article online the newspaper effectively acknowledged that there were inaccuracies in the article. The newspaper offered to publish a letter as a form of redress to Mr Redd in relation to a statement in the article attributed to the company’s co-founder, and it amended the article online in relation to other parts of the article complained about by Mr Redd. In my view this was not a sufficient response to resolve the complaint. Where a significant inaccuracy occurs Principle 1 requires the press to correct the inaccuracy promptly and with due prominence. Given the inaccuracy in the article about the level of burglaries an offer to publish a letter and the amendment of the online article was not enough to avoid a breach of Principle 1. The newspaper when its attention was drawn to the inaccuracy should, in order to comply with Principle 1, have published promptly a clarification or a correction. The defence put forward by the editor that the newspaper had published around the same period a number of articles informing readers that the level of burglaries had declined during the covid lock-down is not persuasive. Also not persuasive is the defence put forward by the editor that Lloyds of London had not complained about any inaccuracy in the article. When the newspaper’s attention was drawn to the article’s claims about Lloyds it deleted the reference online. As with the issue of the levels of burglaries this was not a sufficient response to avoid breaching Principle 1. On the third matter in the complaint regarding the company’s turnover insufficient evidence has been presented to me by the complainant and the newspaper to enable me to make a decision on this part of the complaint.
Principles 2 and 3
Mr Redd also claimed that Principle 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment) and Principle 3 (Fair Procedures and Honesty) had been breached. The editor claimed that Principles 2 and 3 had not been breached as “the content of the article was not influenced in any way by undisclosed interests, our procedures were fair and our reportage was honest”. There is no confusion between fact and comment in the article. The newspaper published an article and accepted without checking information provided to it. This was not a breach of Principle 2 requirements. I also believe that Principle 3 was not breached as there is no evidence of any breach of fair procedures and honesty requirements in the procuring and publishing of the article.