Corofin Castle Heritage Park and the Connacht Tribune
The Press Ombudsman has not upheld a complaint made by the Corofin Castle Heritage Park that the Connacht Tribune breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy), Principle 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment), Principle 3 (Fair Procedures and Honesty) and Principle 4 (Respect for Rights) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.
On 4 February 2017 the Connacht Tribune, under the heading “Corofin Castle cancer centre hits buffers over road access”, reported on opposition from local residents to a planning application for a development on the grounds of Corofin Castle. The article outlined some of the objections to the proposed development contained in submissions by residents opposing the development.
The Corofin Castle Heritage Park wrote to the Connacht Tribune claiming that the article was misleading, based on conjecture and contained unsubstantiated claims contained in submissions by residents opposed to the development. They asked that the newspaper correct the report and requested an “unbiased fact based report of equal length and prominence and detail”.
The Connacht Tribune replied to the Corofin Castle Heritage Park stating that the details contained in the article came from a planning application to Galway County Council submitted by them, and that the application and submissions to it “can be viewed by the public”.
The Corofin Castle Heritage Park was not satisfied with the response of the newspaper and made a complaint to the Office of the Press Ombudsman. In the complaint they stated that “this article has caused damage to our reputation which we believe was an intentional act”. They objected in particular to the fact that the newspaper had not contacted them for a comment prior to the publication of the article. They objected to the headline to the article saying that it was misleading. They also said that references in the article to the development being used for “terminally ill patients” gave a false impression. They also disputed residents’ submissions about access to the development and the amount of time it would take for the development to be completed. They claimed the article breached Principles 1, 2, 3 and 4 of the Code of Practice. They attached copies of some documentation relevant to the planning application and information about the legal status of Corofin Castle Heritage Park.
The editor of the Connacht Tribune responded to the formal complaint and stated that the article had been based on information in a planning file available on the local authority website. He said the statements about the development included in the article had been sourced from this file and from submissions to the application. The editor responded to a number of particular statements in the article that the Heritage Park complained about, highlighting that the statements in question had come from the planning file. The editor offered to publish a letter from the Corofin Castle Heritage Park which would allow them to “outline (their) plans and vision” for the park.
In response to the offer to have a letter published the Corofin Castle Heritage Park indicated that only “a correction of equal length and prominence will be sufficient to correct the facts”.
As a resolution of the complaint was not possible through conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
I am not upholding this complaint.
The article was based on material contained in a planning file, and to submissions made by local residents objecting to the proposed development. Where the complainant has disputed the accuracy of some of the material published in the article, the material in question was contained in the planning application and in the reports of submissions by the residents, and were not reported as facts . No evidence has been submitted to me that the reporting of the residents’ submissions was inaccurate. Therefore, there was no breach of Principle 1.
There was also no breach of Principle 2. The article made it clear that the opinions referred to in the article were those of the objectors. There was no evidence of any comments by the reporter which might have failed to distinguish between fact and commentary.
There was also no breach of Principle 3. No evidence was presented that the newspaper had not striven at all times to observe the requirement for fair procedures and honesty in the procuring and publishing of news and information. The article had relied on what was available in the public domain.
Principle 4 requires the press to take “reasonable care in checking facts before publication”. The Corofin Castle Heritage Park believes that the newspaper was obliged to contact them before publication to allow them to respond to some of the residents’ observations. This might have been necessary had the article purported to be a comprehensive account of the proposed development, but the article was more limited and was confined to an account of material contained in the planning file, which included submissions made by local residents. For this reason, I find no breach of Principle 4.
22 June 2017