The Press Council of Ireland (the “Council”) and the Office of the Press Ombudsman (the “Ombudsman”) were set up to safeguard and promote professional and ethical standards in Irish newspapers and magazines. The Council is an independent regulatory body, and appoints the Ombudsman.
The Council and the Ombudsman recently published the Annual Report for 2010. 315 complaints were received by the Ombudsman in 2010, a similar number of complaints to previous years. However, a higher percentage of complaints were formally investigated by the Ombudsman. The complaints were based on breaches of the Principles of the Code of Practice for Newspapers and Magazines (the “Code”). Breach of Principle 1, Truth and Accuracy, received the highest number of complaints and breach of Principle 5, Privacy, received the second highest number of complaint. Breach of Principle 6, Protection of Sources, received just one complaint.
Of the 315 complaints made, only 53 were the subject of decisions of the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman will always endeavour to resolve complaints through a process of conciliation between the editor of the publication and the complainant. In one-third of the complaints that were decided by the Ombudsman, the publication took, or offered to take, sufficient remedial action to resolve the complaint. Where the Ombudsman makes a formal decision, the publication must publish a copy of that decision.
The Ombudsman also has the discretion to refer significant or complex complaints to the Council for its consideration and decision. In 2010, the Ombudsman referred two such complaints. One of these related to an article published in The Irish Times under the headline “The subsidies that keep Ryanair profits airborne”. The article reported how Ryanair received “huge subsidies” from European airports and outlined why it believed this to be the case. Ryanair complained that the article was in breach of the Code’s Truth and Accuracy, Distinguishing Fact and Comment and Fairness and Honesty Principles.
The newspaper accepted that the headline did not reflect the article and published a correction. The newspaper also offered Ryanair a right to reply to the article, which was refused. The Council agreed that the original headline breached the Code’s Truth and Accuracy and Distinguishing Fact and Comment Principles, but that the subsequent correction of the headline and the offer of a right of reply were sufficient to remedy the breach.
Another complaint specifically mentioned in the Report related to an Irish Daily Mail article, “Treacy and the Irish Daily Mail”. The complainant, Ms Treacy, alleged breach of Principle 5, Privacy. She was a witness in a murder trial during the course of which evidence was given about details of her private life.
The Ombudsman upheld the complaint against the Irish Daily Mail, which involved details being published about Ms Treacy’s working life, including the address of where she worked at the time. This information had not been reported in the court case and it was held that it could “expose her to further unwelcome attention and potential intrusion”.