374/2020 - A Woman and The Herald
On the 26 May the Press Ombudsman upheld a complaint that The Herald breached Principle 5 (Privacy) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.
The Herald published an article on the funeral of a man murdered in a feud between rival gangs. The article included some details of the man’s grave, including its location, and was accompanied by a number of photographs of the grave, including a close-up photograph of a message written on a floral tribute by a family member. The family member complained to The Herald that she had left a floral tribute with a personal private message of condolence to the family which was “plastered … on page 8 for everyone to see”. She said that the man’s death was part of a gangland feud and the photograph showed her family name. She said its publication left her family in a very vulnerable situation and she was now concerned about her family’s safety. She claimed that the publication of the photograph breached Principle 5 (Privacy) of the Code of Practice.
The editor of The Herald responded expressing his sympathies to the family on the death of the murdered man. He also said that he could see how coverage of the funeral by the media would be upsetting for close family members. In defence of the publication of the photograph the editor said that the murder was being investigated as part of a wider gangland feud and was a matter of immense public interest. He said that a funeral by its nature is a public event and the photograph had illustrated “the very real toll the violence had taken”. He also stated that the family name on the display was only partially visible and that he didn’t believe it could lead to identification.
As the complaint could not be resolved by conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
Principle 5.3 of the Code of Practice states:
Sympathy and discretion must be shown at all times in seeking information in situations of personal grief or shock. In publishing such information, the feelings of grieving families should be taken into account.
I accept that the decision to publish the photograph was taken for the reasons given by the editor. However, there was a failure to take account of the requirement to show sympathy and discretion to a grieving family at a time of personal grief and shock. While the editor said that the name on the display was only partially visible, the name was nonetheless visible and its publication in the manner in question was not justified by the public interest. For this reason the complaint is upheld.
The Newspaper appealed the decision of the Press Ombudsman to the Press Council of Ireland on the grounds that the Press Ombudsman had erred in his application of the Code of Practice.
At its meeting on 3 July 2020, the Press Council decided to reject the appeal on the grounds that the Press Ombudsman had not erred in his application of the Code.