117/2019 - Complaint about Irish Daily Star not upheld
The Press Ombudsman has determined that he has insufficient evidence available to him to make a decision on a complaint by Mr Patrick Nevin that the Irish Daily Star breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy), Principle 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment) and Principle 4 (Respect for Rights) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.
On 10 January 2019 the Irish Daily Star carried a report that Mr Nevin had been “quizzed” by Gardaí investigating an unsolved “high-profile” murder of some years previously. The report stated that the Gardaí “subsequently established” that Mr Nevin was not in the area where the murder took place. The report was promoted on the front page in a small box which contained a photograph of Mr Nevin and the victim of the unsolved murder and was published on pages 10 and 11.
Mr Nevin wrote to the editor of the Irish Daily Star stating that the front page created a “misleading association” between the unsolved murder case and him “in the public mind”. He stated that he had “never been quizzed or questioned by the Gardaí, or any other party, in relation to the … murder.” He described the report as a “series of wild, malicious and unchecked allegations”. Mr Nevin claimed that Principles 1, 2 and 4 of the Code of Practice had been breached.
The editor replied stating that the Irish Daily Star reporter who wrote the article “spoke to several sources who told him that Patrick Nevin was questioned by Gardaí in connection with the murder” and that a source had stated that the Gardaí had eventually ruled Mr Nevin out as a suspect “after it was established that in all likelihood he was not in the area at the time of the murder”. The editor concluded by giving details of Mr Nevin’s criminal record.
As the complaint could not be resolved by conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
The Irish Daily Star in its submission relied on its sources to justify the claims made in the article. The complainant in his submission claimed that he had never been questioned by the Gardaí investigating the particular murder referred to in the article. One of these statements has to be untrue; either Mr Nevin was questioned or he was not questioned. Evidence as to whether Mr Nevin had been questioned was not provided by either the complainant or the newspaper and is not available on the public record. Therefore, I have insufficient evidence available to me to determine if the article was accurate as required under Principle 1, if it failed to distinguish between fact and comment as required under Principle 2 and if the newspaper took reasonable care in checking its facts before publication as required under Principle 4.
It is noted that the response from the Irish Daily Star to the complaint detailed the complainant’s criminal record. This might imply that people with criminal records are “fair game” and that there is a licence to publish any allegations. This is not the case; they are as entitled as anyone else to accurate reporting of their affairs and to complain when they believe that the Code of Practice has been breached. In concluding that I have insufficient evidence to make a decision on this particular complaint I am conscious that this should not be interpreted as granting any special licence in the reporting of activities of people with criminal records.
31 May 2019
The complainant appealed the decision of the Press Ombudsman to the Press Council of Ireland on the grounds significant new information was available that could not have been or was not made available to the Press Ombudsman before he made his decision.
At its meeting on 6 September 2019, the Press Council decided that the appeal was not admissible because it did not contain any new evidence in support the grounds cited. The decision of the Press Ombudsman therefore stands.