A Complainant and the Irish Independent
The Press Ombudsman has not upheld a complaint that the Irish Independent breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.
On 8 May 2018 the lead report on page one of the Irish Independent had a headline “Only ‘paupers and millionaires’ can afford court – judge”. The judge referred to was the President of the High Court, Peter Kelly, who was chairing a review of the administration of justice. He was expressing the view at an event that legal fees had risen to such an extent that it wasn’t feasible for many people to litigate.
The complainant, who had attended the event at which the Judge had spoken, complained to the editor of the Irish Independent that the term “workshop” had been used in the report to describe the event. She claimed that the event could not accurately be described as a “workshop” as “there was no opportunity for any participation or meaningful exchange” by attendees at the event.
The complainant said that the article had accepted at face value the vested interests of the legal profession without any balance or critique. She stated that “the legal professionals have been put in charge of fixing a system from which they currently profit” and the public should not be misled that there had been “effective participation” as this had not been the case.
In a submission to the Office of the Press Ombudsman the Irish Independent stood over the report as a “true and accurate news report of a newsworthy aspect of what was said by the President of the High Court”. In regard to the claim that the event could not accurately be described as a “workshop” the newspaper pointed out that the complainant acknowledged that she received an invitation to a “workshop”. The newspaper suggested that the complainant’s criticisms of the event should be directed towards its organisers and not to the newspaper that had reported accurately what had happened.
In a response to the newspaper’s defence of its report the complainant stated that she had listed examples of statements made at the event which had not been reported and she said that the Irish Independent had taken a “very narrow interpretation” of Principle 1. She said that as the event had been attended by a “very small number of people, mostly legal professionals” the public were reliant on the media for “knowledge of what went on at (the) event which is of fundamental public importance”. She went on to say that “important statements” were “totally omitted” from the article. She concluded that “the public had been misled” by the article.
As the complaint could not be resolved by conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
I can find no evidence of any inaccuracy in what was published by the Irish Independent on 8 May. The opinions attributed to the chairman of the review into the administration of justice were
accurately reported. The complainant’s grievances are primarily with the newspaper’s description of the event and the lack of reporting of comments made by other panellists at the event. As the event had been billed as a “workshop” the use of this term in the newspaper report is not a breach of Principle 1. That the complainant did not consider the event a “workshop” is not relevant to any determination that the Code of Practice had been breached. In regard to the non-reporting of other comments and statements at the event a newspaper is entitled to decide what is the most newsworthy part of any event being reported upon. In this instance, highlighting the comments of the President of the High Court seems fully justified.
25 October 2018
Note: The complainant has exercised her right under data protection legislation to have this decision reported in an anonymous manner.