Mr Sean Fenton and The Irish Times
The Press Ombudsman has not upheld a complaint made by Mr Sean Fenton that The Irish Times breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) and Principle 3 (Fair Procedures and Honesty) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.
On 28 January 2018 The Irish Times published in its online edition an article under the heading “Lower epilepsy medication helped me study but I ended up in a coma”. The article outlined how a student (the complainant) had reduced his anti-epilepsy medication and used cannabis oil in an attempt to be better able to study for his Leaving Certificate. However shortly after going to college he had suffered “a very dangerous, life-threatening seizure”. The article reported that the complainant’s doctor had advised him that reducing his medication had not been “a good idea”.
Sean Fenton made a formal complaint to the Office of the Press Ombudsman. He explained his history of his epilepsy and how his medication had made it hard for him to study. After a disappointing Leaving Certificate result in 2016 he had reduced his medication and had a much improved Leaving Certificate result in 2017. He stated that he felt the article misrepresented what he had said, was misleading and had “deliberately … discredited” him and had sensationalised his experience. He said that in his opinion the article breached Principle 1 and Principle 3 of the Code of Practice.
The Irish Times in a submission to the Office of the Press Ombudsman stood over the article as published, stating that it had not been inaccurate or misleading or given a “distorted picture” of what Mr Fenton had told the journalist. The editor stated that the article had been based on five conversations Mr Fenton had with the journalist, that the entire article had been read to him prior to it being filed, and that some comments he had made had been deleted from the article at his request. The editor offered to delete the article “in its entirety” from the digital archive of The Irish Times provided that Mr Fenton withdraw allegations that the article inaccurately reported what he told the journalist, that he delete a social media post where he made accusations against the journalist and that he promise not to repeat the accusations in the future.
Mr Fenton agreed to delete his social media comments and undertook not to repeat the accusations, but he did not offer to withdraw the allegation that the article inaccurately reported what he told the journalist. Mr Fenton reiterated his belief that the article had contained “inaccurate information” and had “blackened the name of someone who is just trying to help and give hope to people with epilepsy in achieving their goals”.
As the complaint could not be resolved by conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
I am not upholding this complaint as I do not believe the article breached Principle 1 or Principle 3 of the Code of Practice.
Principle 1 requires the press to strive at all times for truth and accuracy. In this instance the journalist took considerable care in ensuring that the article based on her conversations with Mr Fenton accurately reflected his experience and what he had said to her. The disagreement as to the interpretation of what he had said took place after publication and the journalist could not have known or anticipated Mr Fenton’s reaction to the article.
Principle 3 requires the press to strive at all times for fair procedures and honesty in the procuring and publishing of news and information and to avoid misrepresentation or subterfuge in the obtaining of information. The journalist’s approach to Mr Fenton (through social media) was unusual but her intentions were clearly stated. Her action in reading out to Mr Fenton her article in advance of filing it and deleting comments as requested clearly shows her determination to be fair to Mr Fenton and to accurately reflect his views.
27 July 2018