401/2020 - A Woman and the Irish Daily Star
The Press Ombudsman has not upheld a complaint that the Irish Daily Star breached Principle 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland. There is insufficient evidence to uphold a claim that Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) had also been breached.
The subject matter of an opinion column published in the Irish Daily Star on 16 July 2020 was the resignation of the then Minister for Agriculture. The writer of the column referred to the Minister’s “deep involvement with the disgusting greyhound industry”.
A woman wrote to the editor of the Irish Daily Star stating that she felt “personally degraded and humiliated” by the article. She described herself as “part of the greyhound community” and that her greyhounds were “treated very well and live wonderful happy lives”. She said the language used in the article was “unacceptable” towards every greyhound owner and supporter”.
As the woman did not receive a reply from the Irish Daily Star she made a complaint to the Office of the Press Ombudsman.
The editor of the Irish Daily Star in a submission to the Office of the Press Ombudsman defended the publication. He noted that Principle 2.1 of the Code states “The press is entitled to advocate strongly its own views on topics” and that the subject matter of the complaint was carried in a weekly opinion column.
The woman did not accept the editor’s justification for the article stating that “there are many thousands of law-abiding greyhound owners, breeders, trainers and owners of retired greyhounds” and that this was not “acknowledged” in the article.
As the complaint could not be resolved by conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
Decision of Press Ombudsman (2 October 2020)
I have not the slightest doubt that the woman who made this complaint is a conscientious and caring owner of greyhounds and that she found the article deeply upsetting. However, writers of opinion columns in newspapers are entitled to express their views strongly. Readers of the column would have understood that what they were reading was the opinion of the columnist and would have agreed or disagreed with the sentiments expressed in the column. I could find no evidence of any failure to distinguish between fact and comment. Therefore, there was no breach of Principle 2.
The views expressed by the complainant and those expressed in the column are radically different views of the greyhound industry. The former sees greyhound breeding and keeping in a very positive light, the latter views the same industry as “disgusting”. It is certainly possible, and indeed likely, that some parts of the greyhound industry are driven by what is in the dogs’ best interests and other parts driven by purely commercial considerations. The complainant would have liked the column to have acknowledged the good parts of the industry and not to generalise in the manner in which she feels the column did. Both sides of the argument presented some minor evidence in support of the different positions. But nothing was presented which would allow a decision to be made as to whether Principle 1 had been breached.
Decision of Press Council on appeal (6 November 2020)
The woman appealed the decision of the Press Ombudsman to the Press Council of Ireland on the grounds (a) that significant new information was available that could not have been made available to the Press Ombudsman before making his decision and (b) that there had been an error in the Press Ombudsman’s application of the Code of Practice.
The Press Council considered the appeal and decided to reject it on the grounds (a) that the appeal did not contain sufficient evidence of any significant new information to support it and (b) that the Press Ombudsman had not erred in his application of the Code of Practice.