893/2021 - Mr Tom Cooper and The Irish Times
On 30 September 2021 the Press Ombudsman decided that The Irish Times took sufficient action to resolve a complaint made by Mr Tom Cooper that Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland had been breached.
On 9 July 2021 The Irish Times published in print and online an article on attitudes of members of the Orange Order in Markethill, Co Armagh. Included in the article was the claim that 11 Protestant workers had been murdered by republican gunmen at Kingsmill in 1976. Also in the article a member of the Orange Order was quoted as saying that a 72 year old woman who had been murdered in 1987 “was the oldest person murdered in the Troubles”.
The following day Mr Cooper submitted a letter for publication to the newspaper pointing out that it had been ten, not eleven Protestant workers who had been killed and that the woman murdered in 1987 had not been the oldest victim of the Troubles, an 87 year old man had been murdered by the UVF in 1994.
Four days later The Irish Times in its print edition corrected the two errors in its “Corrections & Clarifications” column. The online version of the article was also amended to remove the two inaccuracies.
Mr Cooper emailed the editor stating that he had “difficulty with this minimal form of correction”. He said that the correction made it difficult for readers to identify the original article and that no explanation was given for the amendment to the online article. He concluded that he believed the newspaper had not been “transparent with readers”. He also expressed his surprise that no letter, including the one he had written, had been published correcting the errors.
The Irish Times responded saying that “the article had been corrected in print and online” and that the newspaper could only publish a “small selection” of the letters it receives for publication.
As Mr Cooper was not satisfied with the response he received from the newspaper he made a complaint to the Press Ombudsman stating that Principle 1.2 had been breached. Principle 1.2 states
When a significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distorted report or picture has been published, it shall be corrected promptly and with due prominence.
He claimed that the newspaper failed to state online that two errors in the online version of the article had been corrected, that the print correction did not identify adequately the article that was corrected or who had written it, that the use of “an article Friday’s edition” was bad practice and that the manner of publication failed the “due prominence test” in Principle 1.2.
In a submission to the Press Ombudsman the editor stated that the two factual errors had been corrected promptly in print and online. He further stated that there was no reason to give the name of the journalist who had written the article as the purpose of corrections is not to “name and shame”. He further stated that “each newspaper has the right to have its own policy for corrections and clarifications”. He stated that the letter Mr Cooper submitted for publication had not been published as The Irish Times “receives a great many letters each day” and there was only space for a “small selection”. The editor stated that given the complaint made by Mr Cooper and the fact that two mistakes were made and corrected at different times, it had decided to explain the changes that were made in more detail by adding a line to the end of the online version of the article.
As the complaint could not be resolved by conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
It is my view that the errors identified by Mr Cooper did not require any amplification in the Corrections & Clarifications column and that the corrections were published promptly as required by Principle 1.2. The two errors did not distort the article as published and the correction published was adequate to address the matter. If an error is included in an article that is significant and distorts readers’ understanding of a matter a more detailed clarification or correction may be required. But this was not the case with the article published on 9 July. In regard to the decision not to publish Mr Cooper’s letter this function is entirely at the discretion of the editor and is not something that falls for consideration under the Code of Practice.
Appeal of decision to Press Council of Ireland
Mr Cooper appealed the decision of the Press Ombudsman to the Press Council of Ireland on the grounds (a) that the Press Ombudsman had erred in his application of the Code of Practice and (b) that the procedures followed in making the decision were not in accordance with the published procedures for submitting and considering complaints.
Mr Cooper appealed the Press Ombudsman’s decision on the basis that the Press Ombudsman had failed to rule on the newspaper’s refusal to adopt the same policy online as in print with regard to the correction of errors.
Decision of Press Council on appeal
The Press Council considered the appeal at its meeting on Friday, 3 December 2021. The appeal was rejected on both grounds because the Press Council decided that the corrections were made promptly and with due prominence and because it is not the function of the Press Ombudsman to determine the policy of member publications on how errors should be corrected in print and on-line.