A Father and the Northern Standard
The Press Ombudsman has not upheld a complaint that the Northern Standard breached Principle 5 (Privacy) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.
The Northern Standard published a court report concerning a conviction for assault on a minor. By the time the case reached court the victim of the assault was no longer a minor. The father of the victim wrote to the editor of the newspaper objecting to the level of detail about the assault included in the report, and the insensitive manner in which it was reported. The newspaper defended the report and said that it had been a “fair, accurate and balanced” report which had not named the minor (though it accepted that the minor could be identified by other information contained in the report). The newspaper regretted the distress caused to the boy by the report but said that it had a responsibility to report on court proceedings.
The father then complained to the Office of the Press Ombudsman that his son’s privacy had not been protected or respected, and that the decision to publish the report was totally lacking in sympathy and discretion. He pointed out that his son was a minor at the time of the assault and had been greatly upset and distressed by the experience of the assault and the reporting of the court case. The father also claimed that the report had not been in the public interest.
The editor in a submission to the Office of the Press Ombudsman said that the court report had excluded “overly explicit” details of the assault to avoid causing distress to the victim. He said, however, that as a custodial sentence had been imposed on a first-time offender it was necessary for a “full understanding of the Judge’s ruling to present some detail as to the particular form which the assault took”. He argued that the report was in the public interest “given the custodial sentence imposed and the deterrent intent of the imposition of such sentences”. The editor went on to offer his sympathy for what the boy had to endure in giving evidence and the subsequent reporting of his evidence.
As the complaint could not be resolved by conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
I can appreciate the distress caused to the young man by the reporting of the court case. I can also appreciate the father’s efforts to minimise his son’s distress. However, I consider the court report that led to the complaint as a carefully written report that tried to balance sensitivity towards a minor, who was the central witness in an assault case, with the need to report on proceedings that took place in open court. Newspapers play an important part in ensuring that justice is delivered in public. Principle 5.3 of the Code of Practice acknowledges that the requirement for discretion which must be shown in situations of shock is qualified by a newspaper’s right to report judicial proceedings. In this instance, I do not believe the newspaper breached Principle 5 and therefore the complaint is not upheld.
4 December 2017