206/2019 - Ireland S. E. Development Office and The Irish Times
The Press Ombudsman has upheld a complaint that The Irish Times breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.
On 31 July 2019 The Irish Times published in print an article under the heading “Wages in southeast nearly half national average, study finds”. The article was based on a report drawn up by researchers in the Waterford Institute of Technology and stated that the report showed that unemployment in the area is more than twice the national average. The Ireland South East Development Office questioned the accuracy of the article and the fact that the article was “overly negative”.
The Irish Times replied saying they did not set out to paint a negative image but “merely to inform our readers of the contents of the report”. It offered to publish a letter from the complainants and amended the online article to correct the data concerning unemployment. The Ireland South East Development Office responded that it was happy for a letter from them to be published but continued to question the accuracy of the article.
The Ireland South East Development Office made a formal complaint to the Press Ombudsman on the basis that among other statements in the article the figure given for unemployment in the south east was inaccurate. They noted that the unemployment figure had been amended in the online version of the article but the error had not been addressed in the print edition.
The Irish Times in its submission to the Office of the Press Ombudsman acknowledged that the article had not been accurate in regards to the unemployment figure and said that the article had been amended online. The newspaper also said that it had published a letter from the Ireland South East Development Office responding to the article.
As the complaint could not be resolved through conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
The publication of a letter from the complainants went some way towards addressing concerns raised about the print article. However, the newspaper needed to publish a correction regarding the claim in that article that “unemployment was more than twice the national average” in the south east before it could be deemed that it had taken sufficient action to resolve the complaint. Therefore, I am upholding the complaint that the print article breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) of the Code of Practice.
Other parts of the complaint were not upheld.
The Ireland South East Development Office also complained about the headline to both the online and print articles, which stated that the study found that wages in the south east were nearly half the national average. The complainants said that this finding was not in the study and that official figures showed that total income per person in the south east was 90% of the national average.
The editor in response said that the study stated:
“Income tax returns are a useful proxy of job quality. Workers in the SE return 52.2% of the national average of all income taxes, which is suggestive of the combined effect of low average wages and higher rates of unemployment. The region lacks quality PAYE jobs (indicated by half the average PAYE returns)”
The Irish Times went on to note that the figures on average earnings from the Central Statistics Office, which the Ireland South East Development Office provided “paint a somewhat different picture” to those used in the study, which it said were figures from Revenue. The newspaper stated that it is “our view and opinion of others that the Revenue figures are very reliable”. It pointed out that the online version of the article now contained a link to the letter from the Ireland South East Development Office challenging the article’s conclusions and submitted a copy of the amended online article.
I am not upholding that part of the complaint that referred to income levels as the Ireland South East Development Office in its complaint and the researchers in the Waterford Institute of Technology have utilised different sources of statistics for measurement purposes. It appears to me that both sets of figures are legitimate even if they result in different conclusions.
The Irish Times took sufficient action to resolve the complaint about the reference in the online edition of the article to unemployment figures. By amending the article online and by linking the article to the letter from the Ireland South East Development Office online readers would have been fully informed of the inaccuracy in the original edition and the challenge to some of the statements made in the article from the complainants.
17 October 2019