304/2020 - A Mother and The Irish Times

By admin
Friday, 19th June 2020
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The Press Ombudsman has not upheld a complaint that The Irish Times breached Principle 5 (Privacy), Principle 8 (Prejudice) and Principle 9 (Children) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.

The Irish Times published details of a court settlement where a mother on behalf of her child sued a maternity hospital for injuries to the child during birth. The newspaper reported that the settlement was made without admission of liability by the hospital. The report included the mother’s name and that of her child. It also gave information on the amount of the settlement.

The mother wrote to the editor of The Irish Times stating that the newspaper had published her “daughter’s name, age, place of birth, date of birth, address, mother’s maiden name, family name, settlement amount and disability”. She asked that the newspaper remove the article from its website.

The editor responded pointing out that it is a “core tenet of our legal system that justice is administered in public” and that “reports of proceedings before the courts are a matter of public record and are very much in the public interest”. He stated that his newspaper “places a very high value on comprehensive and accurate reporting of what transpires in our courts”. In response to the mother’s request that the article be deleted online he agreed as a gesture of goodwill to amending the online article so that it included only the suburb where she lived.

As the complaint could not be resolved by conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.

It is widely recognised that newspapers are permitted to report everything said in open court unless there are restrictions imposed by the court or legislation. In this case, The Irish Times stood over what it had published as fully justified. Anyone who is a regular reader of newspaper coverage of court cases must be familiar with the practice of identifying plaintiffs and the publication of details of the claims and outcome of those claims. Given the fact that the newspaper reported on evidence given in open court, I can find no breach of Principles 5 and 9 of the Code of Practice in the article.

The mother also claimed that Principle 8 of the Code had been breached. This Principle requires the press not to publish material intended to or likely to cause grave offence or stir up hatred against an individual or a group on the basis of their race, religion, nationality, colour, ethnic origin, membership of the travelling community, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, illness or age. I could find nothing in the court report which breached Principle 8 of the Code. 

29 May 2020