THE RELATIONSHIP between the media and politicians, particularly those in government, has its stresses and strains. Politicians are sometimes inclined to the view that the media are interested only in stories that might portray them in a negative light. The media would hold that politicians – and government – often endeavour to restrict information in the hope of limiting negative comment.
This testy relationship is improving. An indication of this was on show yesterday when Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform Dermot Ahern welcomed the publication of the second annual report of the Press Council and the Office of the Press Ombudsman which, he said, “have made great progress”.
Mr Ahern pointed out that the greatest number of complaints received by the office of the ombudsman concerned the truth and accuracy of newspaper reports. He also referred to the substantial number of complaints concerning privacy and referred to the requirement that publications should show sympathy and discretion when publishing information related to personal grief and bereavement. This concentration of complaints will, he hopes, be food for thought for editors. They should be.
Mr Ahern also urged those publications which have not become members of the Press Council to do so. As the chairman of the council, Professor Thomas Mitchell, noted in the report, “publishers should be eager to show their readers and the general public that they, who rightly hold others to account, are themselves members of an appropriate form of accountability”. This State, he pointed out, is fortunate to have a regulatory body for the print media (including online) which has legal standing but is free of any control or influence by the State. Mr Ahern paid deserved tribute to Prof Mitchell, who is retiring from the post, not just for his chairmanship of the council but also for his work on the steering committee which brought the council into being.
The Press Ombudsman, Professor John Horgan, drew attention to the fact that of the 351 complaints received last year (a slight increase on the 2008 figure of 335) many were informally resolved between the complainant and the publication themselves while others were successfully mediated by the ombudsman’s office. The very existence of the council would seem to have encouraged editors towards a more conciliatory attitude to complainants which is no bad thing.