Rev. Guy Chave Cox and the Irish Mail on Sunday

(01 Mar 2011)

The Press Ombudsman has upheld a complaint by the Rev. Guy Chave-Cox that an article about him in the Irish Mail on Sunday on 29 August 2010 was in breach of Principles 1 (Truth and Accuracy), 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment) and 4 (Respect for Rights) of the Code of Practice for Newspapers and Magazines. A number of other complaints about the article were not upheld.

Rev. Chave-Cox complained under Principle 1 that the article in question contained a number of inaccuracies about him, the principal ones being that he was terrifying the people of Rosses Point with ground rent claims, that he was trying to evict long-term Sligo residents, and that he was trying to claim back land. He complained under Principle 2 that a number of statements in the article were comment reported as fact and, under Principle 4, that the material published had affected his good name because the newspaper had not taken reasonable care in checking facts before publication.

The newspaper responded initially that it had identified “several minor errors of detail and of historical fact” which it regretted and which it said it would be happy to correct. It subsequently offered to publish a clarification and correction of four specific errors and an expression of regret for any distress that had been caused. The complainant declined to accept this offer.

The article, comprising almost 2,000 words and covering nine columns of the newspaper, claimed in its headline to reveal, “the bizarre story of the ‘man of God’ who is playing landlord at Rosses Point.” It told its readers that this was “a feud which pits local Irish against an aristocratic British vicar, a feud which calls to mind the country’s past troubles with absentee landlords.”

Central to the entire article was its contention that the complainant had an ownership interest in a Co. Sligo property, which is owned by the Middleton Estate and in which his wife has a beneficial interest, and which had been the subject of legal correspondence initiated by representatives of the Estate. This contention was the basis for an extensive investigation of the complainant’s personal history, background and activities, in both Ireland and England, the factual accuracy of which was in many respects challenged by the complainant.

While there is insufficient evidence on which to determine the truth or accuracy of a number of the less significant matters described as inaccuracies by the complainant (some of which involve third parties), the newspaper’s identification of the complainant as someone with a beneficial interest in the property concerned was a significant and fundamental inaccuracy that vitiated the newspaper’s contention that all that was involved were “several minor errors of detail and of historical fact”. In these circumstances, the reference in the article’s headline to the complainant as a “landlord”, and other statements in the article about the complainant - that he was trying to evict long-term Sligo residents from their land, that he was actively pursuing the property in Sligo, at the expense of long-term residents, that he believed he had an ancestral right and that he was trying to claim back land - were significant inaccuracies, and the newspaper’s proffered clarification and expression of regret was, in the light of their significance, an inadequate response. The complaint under Principle 1 is therefore upheld.

As the statements complained of under Principle 2 were comments about the complainant which were reported as fact, the complaint under this Principle is also upheld.

As there was sufficient evidence that the complainant, unlike many other individuals mentioned or quoted in the article, had not been contacted prior to publication, the newspaper did not take reasonable care in checking its facts before publication, and the complaint under Principle 4 is also upheld.

Other complaints made under Principles 5 (Privacy) and 8 (Prejudice) were not upheld.

In relation to a complaint under Principle 5 that the publication of a photograph of the complainant was an unjustified invasion of his privacy, the fact that he was publicly associated with his wife during the events being reported – events which concerned her directly - is sufficient to justify the publication of the photograph of both of them together. This complaint is therefore not upheld.

The complainant also claimed that the photograph was in breach of the prohibition, in the same Principle, against taking photographs of individuals in private places without their consent unless justified by the public interest. Private property is not synonymous with a private place, and it is reasonable to infer that a “private place” means any place – public or private – in which a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy. As there was no persuasive evidence that the complainant was in such a place at the time the photograph was taken, this complaint is not upheld. Equally, the personal information printed about the complainant’s public role as a clergyman, including the address of the church at which he served, did not amount to a breach of his privacy under this Principle, and the complaint in this respect is also not upheld.

Finally, in relation to the complaint under Principle 8 that the article incited hatred against Rev. Chave-Cox, there was no evidence linking the article concerned to the vituperative, racist, sectarian and anonymous comments about him posted on the website of his church. In these circumstances, the newspaper cannot be held liable for this material. A newspaper would be held responsible for the publication of such material anonymously on the unregulated internet only in very rare and specific circumstances. This complaint is therefore also not upheld.






1 March 2011

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