The Chairman of the Press Council of Ireland, Professor Tom Mitchell, today (24 May) made “an urgent plea” to all newspapers and periodicals to become members of the Press Council. He was speaking at the launch of the 2009 Annual Report of the Press Council of Ireland and Office of the Press Ombudsman by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr. Dermot Ahern TD.
“It is now evident” Professor Mitchell said; “that there are substantial benefits for all publications in showing that they are amenable to an appropriate, responsible form of press regulation. They should also think of the fact that their readers are entitled to have available to them this quick and easy form of redress if they have a complaint. This whole process, which has been created with much effort and goodwill on the part of both the media and government, will work best if all of the print media plays its part and gets involved.”
“New members can also expect, if involved in a legal action, that their record in collaborating with the Press Council will contribute to any defence based on the new Act’s principle of reasonable publication.”
“The Press Council”, he added, “has a twin mission: to promote and protect press freedom, but also to provide a check on press behaviour by giving those who feel wronged by the actions of the press a simple, comprehensive mode of redress. It is a clear, unequivocal mission, designed to serve the public interest, and it should, and I believe it does, command the general support of the public, and of government, and of the media itself.”
More than 200 of the 351 complaints received by the Office of the Press Ombudsman in 2009 presented prima facie evidence of a possible breach of the Code of Practice, according to the Report of the Press Ombudsman, Professor John Horgan. Of these complaints, 53 were either successfully conciliated or decided upon by the Press Ombudsman or Press Council.
Most of the remaining complaints that presented prima facie evidence of a breach of the Code were not pursued beyond a preliminary enquiry by the complainant, or were informally resolved between the complainant and the publication prior to the Press Ombudsman’s Office getting formally involved.
As was the case in 2008, the majority of complaints in 2009 were made under Principle 1 of the Code of Practice, relating to Truth and Accuracy.
Press Ombudsman, Professor John Horgan, told those present that the cooperation of member newspapers and periodicals had been a major factor in securing a wide measure of public acceptance of the Press Council and his Office. He said that publications’ ‘open and generous attitude to conciliation’ had generated goodwill and support for a free press, as well as saving time and effort for all concerned.
More than a quarter of all complaints formally investigated in 2009 by the
Press Ombudsman’s Office were successfully conciliated between the parties concerned.
Pointing out that virtually half of all the decisions made by the Press Ombudsman either upheld complaints or concluded that the publications concerned took or offered to take sufficient remedial action to resolve the complaint, Professor Horgan said these results highlighted the continued success of his Office “in providing a fair hearing for complaints about newspapers and periodicals.”
“At the same time,” he added, “it should be remembered that a decision by the Press Ombudsman to uphold or not to uphold a complaint is really just the tip of a fairly large iceberg”, he said. “The work of conciliation that goes on behind the scenes is a vital component of a system that works actively to increase trust between journalists and readers, to reduce misunderstandings, and in this way to enhance the whole system of public accountability of which the press forms such a vital part.”
Stating that his Office serves as an important “alternative to expensive legal action for complainants and publications alike”, Professor Horgan called on the legal profession to highlight the free and quick procedures involved in availing of his Office and its desire “to facilitate win-win resolutions whenever possible.”