181/2019 - Complaint about Irish Examiner upheld
On 19 July the Press Ombudsman upheld a complaint that a headline in the Irish Examiner breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.
On 5 June 2019 the Irish Examiner published in print and online an article under the headline “Anti-vaccine campaign led to boy ending up in A&E”. The account was based on a report in Epi-Insight, an online publication of the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (a HSE agency for the surveillance of communicable diseases). The report said the case “highlights the potential for a vaccine-preventable disease to cause acute, life-threatening illness in an unvaccinated child”. The article stated that “even though both parents were “well informed” regarding vaccine-preventable diseases … they chose not to have him vaccinated ... (because of) social media reports of a potential link between the MMR vaccine and autism spectrum disorder”. The article reported that the child had non-typable haemophilus influenza
A man wrote to the editor of the Irish Examiner complaining about the inaccurate headline as the child was diagnosed with a form of influenza that was not vaccine preventable.
The editor responded to the complaint stating “On the face of it the headline looks wrong and if that is the case we shall correct it. I shall investigate its path through to publication and revert to you shortly”.
The man was not satisfied with the delay in the editor taking action and made a formal complaint to the Office of the Press Ombudsman. He claimed that the article had breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) of the Code of Practice as “no vaccine exists for the illness with which the child was hospitalised”. He requested that a “new article should be published by the Examiner exonerating the “anti-vaccine campaign” from blame and apologising for misleading the public on this important matter of public interest”.
The Irish Examiner defended the article saying the “account appears to be a fair and accurate report of a paper produced by practitioners at University Hospital Galway who were describing the regrets of parents who felt that they had given undue weight to campaigners in deciding not to have their child vaccinated”. The editor said that he had “clarified the online story by changing the headline to ‘Parents of hospitalised 13-year-old regret giving weight to anti-vaccine campaign’”. The editor also said that he would not publish an article exonerating the anti-vaccine campaign as requested by the complainant.
The complainant said that the editor’s response was not sufficient. He described it as “too little and far too late”.
As the complaint could not be resolved by conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
Principle 1.2 requires a significant inaccuracy to be corrected promptly and with due prominence. The headline to the article published on 5 June required to be corrected, but the correction was not carried out promptly and there was no correction carried in the print edition. Therefore Principle 1 was breached.
I can find no evidence that requirements to distinguish between fact and comment were breached. The article was based on a report by a reputable health agency.
I can find no evidence that requirements in regard to causing grave offence or stirring up hatred against any individual or group were breached.
The newspaper appealed the decision of the Press Ombudsman to the Press Council of Ireland on the grounds that there had been an error in the Press Ombudsman’s application of the Code of Practice.
At its meeting on 6 September 2019 the Press Council decided that the appeal was not admissible because it did not contain sufficient evidence to support the grounds cited. The decision of the Press Ombudsman therefore stands.