668/2021 - A Mother and the Sunday World

By Gabrielle Collins
Tuesday, 20th April 2021
Filed under:

The Press Ombudsman has not upheld a complaint that the Sunday World breached Principle 3 (Fair Procedures and Honesty) and Principle 5 (Privacy) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.  He found that sufficient remedial action was offered by the newspaper to resolve a complaint under Principle 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment) of the Code, and that there was insufficient evidence to make a decision on a complaint that Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) was breached.

The Sunday World published an article on people who were alleged to be involved in gangland murders. One of the murdered men referred to in the article was described as a “mob boss”.

The man’s mother wrote to the editor of the Sunday World stating that her son had “never been arrested, charged or convicted of anything to do with serious crime”. She named a Garda Superintendent who she said could confirm this. She also said that the article had given the wrong timing for her son’s murder. She said that the photograph of her son in which he was seen to have a gun used to accompany the article was taken at a gun range while he was on holiday outside the country and had been taken off his social media account without permission. She said that her family was still grieving and that there was an ongoing Garda investigation into her son’s murder proceeding. She stated that the Sunday World had breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy), Principle 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment), Principle 3 (Fair Procedure and Honesty), and Principle 5 (Privacy) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.

The editor of the Sunday World stood over what had been published. He said that the “absence of arrest, charge or conviction for gangland activities” did not mean that the complainant’s son was not involved in such activities. He said that the claim that the complainant’s son was a “mob boss” was based on information provided by sources which the newspaper was obliged to keep confidential. He also said that “ongoing legal proceedings are likely to bring further details” of the man’s activities to light.

The editor offered to publish a clarification regarding the timing of the man’s murder and provided wording of a clarification for consideration. He said that the issue was not a “substantial inaccuracy within the meaning of the Code of Practice”.

In regard to the origin of the photograph of the man used to accompany the article the editor stated “it has been published widely across multiple Irish media outlets”.

The editor added the article had not focussed on the man’s murder but had been on the full extent of the gangland feud and the fallout from it. He said that he sympathised with the family of the murdered man but did not see the article as a breach of the family’s privacy.

The mother declined the offer of a clarification. She also said that confidential sources were not always “reliable, truthful and honest”. She said there was no real evidence of any links of her son’s  murder to a particular person or persons and the article had been based on speculation.

As the complaint could not be resolved by conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.

Principle 1

Principle 1 requires the press to strive for truth and accuracy.  The mother stated that her son had never been arrested, charged  or convicted of anything to do with “serious crime, gangland or organised crime”. Therefore  the description of him as a “mob boss” was inaccurate.  The newspaper stood over what it had published, which it said was based on information provided by sources.   I have insufficient evidence available to me to make a decision on this part of the complaint.

Principle 2

Principle 2 requires the press not to report as fact comment, conjecture, rumour and unconfirmed reports. The mother complained under Principle 2 that the newspaper was inaccurate in its account of the length of time between a gangland related event and the murder of her son. The newspaper offered to print a clarification to address this point, and this offer was sufficient to resolve the complaint that Principle 2 had been breached.

Principle 3

Principle 3 requires the press not to obtain photographs through misrepresentation or subterfuge. No evidence was produced to me that the Sunday World used misrepresentation or subterfuge to obtain the photograph of the murdered man published alongside the article.

Principle 5

Principle 5 protects the right to privacy. There is a public interest test for newspapers if they are considering breaches of privacy. The Sunday World’s reporting of the impact of gangland killings can be justified as in the public interest given that the reporting of crime and its effects plays a part in informing the public of the consequences of such activities. For this reason I find no breach of Principle 5.

31 March 2021