180/2019 - A Complainant and The Irish Times
The Press Ombudsman has decided that sufficient remedial action was offered to resolve a complaint that The Irish Times breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland. In addition, he did not uphold a complaint that Principle 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment) had been breached.
On 23 January 2019 The Irish Times published online an article under the heading “ESB signs partnership to develop offshore wind farms in Irish Sea”. The article included the statement “Once operational it (the wind farm) will generate enough capacity to cover the energy needs of 280,000 households”.
A complainant wrote to the editor of The Irish Times claiming that “telling people that wind energy can power homes and cities is the type of statement that directly misleads people into thinking that wind energy is great and creates and reinforces an incorrect belief that it can replace fossil fuel and thereby ‘save the planet’”. She stated that wind energy is variable and therefore dispatchable back up energy sources are required. For this reason, she said the article breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) of the Code of Practice. She further complained that as the journalist responsible for the article had acted as chair on behalf of the Irish Wind Energy Association at a Conference, and The Irish Times was in receipt of revenue from advertising paid for by the wind industry, Principle 2 (Distinguishing fact and Comment) had been breached.
The editor of The Irish Times replied by stating that the information had been provided by the ESB and had been published in good faith. He went on to state that The Irish Times accepted that wind energy is variable and was confident that its readers do also. Therefore, he said, it was not necessary for The Irish Times to “elaborate on the downsides of wind turbines each time there is a short news article on wind farm developments”. The editor said that the author of the article had been asked to chair a seminar on wind turbine energy “precisely because he is regarded as wholly objective on the matter”. The editor concluded by inviting the complainant to submit a letter for publication in which she could take issue with the ESB’s claims or, alternatively, The Irish Times would publish a feature/analysis of wind turbine energy to which the complainant could contribute.
The complainant turned down the offer of the publication of a letter and indicated that she was considering the offer to run a feature. However, terms for the publication of a feature could not be agreed between the complainant and the editor and the complaint was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
Regarding the claim of a breach of Principle I (Truth and Accuracy) I am of the opinion that the offer by the editor to allow the complainant to contribute to a feature/analysis challenging the claims about wind turbine energy was a sufficient offer to resolve the complaint. While it was unfortunate that terms for the publication of the feature could not be agreed, this in itself did not negate the fact that the offer had been made.
In regard to the claim that Principle 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment) had been breached, I accept the editor’s reasons why the request had been made for the journalist to chair a seminar at a conference, and am of the view that there was no breach of the Code. The fact that The Irish Times may carry advertising paid for by the wind industry is irrelevant. No evidence was presented that the journalist was in any way influenced by the publication’s financial relationship with its advertisers.
17 June 2019