3799/2018 - Ryanair and The Irish Times
The Press Ombudsman has decided that The Irish Times took sufficient remedial action to resolve a complaint made by Ryanair under Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) and Principle 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.
On 11 April 2018 The Irish Times published in print and online a report under the headline “Ryanair faces legal action from pilots”. Ryanair contacted The Irish Times and informed them that the report was inaccurate as none of the cases referred to in the report involved Ryanair pilots or staff. The Irish Times amended the article online changing the heading to “Ryanair faces spate of legal actions in High Court”. The amended version carried the information that “Ryanair said that none of the plaintiffs was either a current or former member of staff of the airline”. In a follow up email to the newspaper, also dated 11 April, Ryanair requested that a correction should be published in the “business supplement on the same page that the original article appeared on”. On 13 April The Irish Times published a correction on page 18 of its print edition in its “Corrections & Clarifications” section. This stated “An article in last Wednesday’s edition said that Ryanair is facing legal action from 37 of its pilots. A spokesman for Ryanair has pointed out that the legal proceedings do not involve any Ryanair pilots or other staff”. Solicitors representing Ryanair wrote to The Irish Times on 13 April stating that the clarification had not been published with “appropriate prominence similar to the offending article”. They requested the newspaper to “republish the clarification on the same page, and with similar prominence, as (the) incorrect article”. On 20 April the Irish Times wrote to the solicitors representing Ryanair stating that the correction had been published “on the Opinion page, as is customary, where it is highly visible and experiences considerable reader traffic”.
On 14 April The Irish Times published in its “Quiz of the Week” under the heading “Have I got fake news for you” a number of statements including “b) More than 30 Ryanair pilots have filed proceedings against the airline in the High Court …”. The answers to the question in the quiz were published on the bottom of the page where it was stated that b) was correct.
Solicitors representing Ryanair wrote to The Irish Times on 4 May stating that both the news story of 11 April and the quiz question of 14 April were in breach of Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland. The solicitors requested The Irish Times to “republish both clarifications on the same pages and with similar prominence to the original incorrect articles”. On 7 May The Irish Times in its “Corrections & Clarifications” section published the following correction: “The quiz of the week in the edition of April 14th under the heading “Have I got fake news for you” contained an entry “More than 30 Ryanair pilots have filed proceedings in the High Court”. The answer section said in error that this was correct. Ryanair has made it clear that it is not facing legal proceedings from any of its pilots or any other employees. The error is regretted”.
The Irish Times on 10 May wrote to the solicitors representing Ryanair acknowledging that the newspaper “erred a second time”. It added “The error is genuinely regretted”. The newspaper went on to defend where it had published its clarifications saying “The Opinion page location for corrections was established by The Irish Times almost 30 years ago, is high profile and is widely read and commented on by our readers”.
A week later Ryanair made a formal complaint to the Office of the Press Ombudsman claiming that The Irish Times had breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) and Principle 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment) of the Code of Practice. Ryanair claimed that “The Irish Times have not published an appropriate retraction and clarification with significant prominence”.
The Irish Times responded to the complaint stating that it had approached Ryanair asking for a comment about the court proceedings but were informed that the airline would not comment. The newspaper went on to state that when contacted by Ryanair with the information that none of its pilots were taking legal proceedings against the airline it immediately amended the article online and published a correction in its print edition. It said the correction was published on the Opinion page as is ”common practice”. In regard to the incorrect information being given in its quiz the newspaper said that the quiz question had been set when the article first appeared. When the error in the quiz question was pointed out the newspaper had published a correction, again on its Opinion page. The Irish Times went on to state that its Corrections & Clarifications section has a “constant position” and that publishing corrections in this section is better than “randomly” publishing corrections elsewhere in the newspaper.
Ryanair responded to The Irish Times’ submission stating that it was correct that it had been contacted by a reporter but that the reporter had not sought confirmation that the “cases were taken by pilots”. Ryanair continued to assert that the two “inaccuracies have (not) been corrected and clarified with due prominence”.
As the complaint could not be resolved through conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
The Irish Times on two occasions published something inaccurate about Ryanair. The newspaper has acknowledged it erred on both occasions. It is particularly regrettable that the error was published a second time by The Irish Times, but the newspaper’s explanation for the error in the quiz question is plausible. Ryanair has argued that the newspaper did not strive for truth and accuracy, and that the inaccuracies were not corrected and clarified with due prominence. In this instance I believe that the publication of the corrections in the Corrections & Clarifications column on the Opinion page was sufficient to resolve the complaints. It is accepted practice by most newspapers that corrections and clarifications appear in a regular place in newspapers. Readers are aware of this and look to the regular place to find corrections.
25 June 2018