11/2019 A Man and the Irish Independent
The Press Ombudsman has not upheld a complaint that the Irish Independent breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland. He has insufficient evidence available to him to make a decision on another part of the complaint.
The Irish Independent in its online edition reported on a legal action being taken for wrongful-death. The print edition of the Irish Independent a day later had an edited version of the online report. The headline to the online article stated that a named family was taking the lawsuit. The body of the two articles also stated that the lawsuit was being taken by the named family.
A member of the family wrote to the editor of the Independent stating that “no member of (his) family has taken any lawsuit” and that the lawsuit had been taken by another person “one of the executors” of the deceased person’s estate. He asked that the report be corrected.
The Irish Independent replied stating that it accepted “that the lawsuit is in the name of the executor of the (deceased’s) estate. However, it is our understanding that the legal action is supported by members of the (complainant’s) family. As such, it is a fair and reasonable representation of the facts”
The man replied that the article was “misleading as it gives readers of the Irish Independent the impression that the family has taken the lawsuit” and that it was an individual who had taken the legal action.
The man made a complaint to the Office of the Press Ombudsman on the basis that the Irish Independent had breached Principle 1 of the Code of Practice on the grounds that it had been inaccurately reported in print and online that the family was taking the lawsuit and that in the online version of the report it had been inaccurately stated that “the family had declined to comment on the matter”.
The Irish Independent in response said that it was “true and accurate” to say that the legal action filed by the brother-in-law of the man who died was filed by the complainant’s family and that the “definition of family in a modern sense includes in-laws”. The newspaper also stated that “many other members” of the deceased man’s family supported the legal action. The newspaper also stated the article “was approved in advance by a member of the (complainant’s) family”.
The complainant responded by saying that the person who took out the law-suit was not a member of his family as not one member of his family had any input into the case nor had they signed any document relating to the case. He said that while his family supported the case, this does not mean that they took it out. He submitted a redacted letter to the Office of the Press Ombudsman from a firm of solicitors representing the man taking the legal action which stated that the action did not include the father and mother of the deceased man and that it was a matter for any other member of the (complainant’s) family to bring whatever legal proceedings they felt they were entitled to institute.
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 that Principle 1 was breached by the Irish Independent as I believe the claim in the articles that a named family was taking legal action was not significantly inaccurate, misleading or a distorted report (requirements in Principle 1). The person who took the legal action was a brother-in-law of the deceased person and executor of the deceased person’s will. In these circumstances I do not think it unreasonable for the newspaper to describe the legal action as having been taken by the (complainant’s) family. It is regrettable that agreement between the newspaper and the complainant could not have been reached to clarify relationships. However, this did not happen. The redacted letter from the solicitors is not relevant to my decision as the person taking the legal action could reasonably be described as a member of the (complainant’s) family given that he was a brother-in-law of the complainant
In regard to the second part of the complaint, that the claim in the online version of the article that the family had declined to comment on the matter was inaccurate, there is a statement by the complainant that this did not happen and a statement by the newspaper that the article had been approved in advance of publication by a member of the family. Without additional information I have insufficient evidence available to me to make a decision on this part of the complaint.
1 February 2019