686/2021 - Greyhound Action Ireland and the Irish Examiner
The Press Ombudsman has not upheld a complaint made by Greyhound Action Ireland that the Irish Examiner breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.
On 18 December 2020, the Irish Examiner published an interview with a well-known breeder and trainer of racing greyhounds. In the course of the interview, which used a questions and answers format, the breeder defended the greyhound industry against accusations of mistreatment of its animals. He was reported as saying that there was a group opposed to greyhound racing “who are waging a relentless campaign of lies, unsubstantiated claims and vile propaganda against the greyhound community”.
Greyhound Action Ireland submitted a letter for publication to the Irish Examiner in which the group set out its views on what it described as “the many falsehoods contained in the article”. The letter was not published.
Greyhound Action Ireland made a formal complaint to the Office of the Press Ombudsman claiming that by publishing the interview the Irish Examiner had breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) of the Code of Practice.
Principle 1.1 states that the press shall strive at all times for truth and accuracy. Greyhound Action Ireland claimed the article was “full of falsehoods and cast serious aspersions on the integrity and motivation of groups like Greyhound Action Ireland which campaign for an end to the public funding of greyhound racing”.
The group also claimed a breach of Principle 1.2 and 1.3.
Principle 1.2 states that When a significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distorted report or picture has been published it shall be corrected promptly and with due prominence.
Principle 1.3 states When appropriate, a retraction, apology, clarification, explanation or response shall be published promptly and with due prominence.
The group said that the failure of the Irish Examiner to publish the letter the group had submitted for publication represented a breach of Principle 1.2 and 1.3.
The group outlined some of the falsehoods it claimed were published. The group challenged the claim in the article that the State funding the industry received came from revenue received from a betting levy. The group said this was inaccurate. The group also disputed the claim made in the article that the greyhound industry employed 10,000 people. The group said the real figure was closer to 250 people. The group also challenged the accuracy of the response by the interviewee to accusations that there was over-breeding and that as a result “thousands of unwanted dogs” had to be put down.
The Irish Examiner in formal submissions to the Office of the Press Ombudsman denied that Principle 1 had been breached.
The newspaper pointed out that it had published on many occasions articles critical of the greyhound industry. It provided links to 8 sample articles, opinion pieces and published letters that were critical of the industry. It noted that the interview with the well-known breeder and trainer was published following publication of two articles in the previous month highly critical of the greyhound industry. The newspaper went on to state that both of these “articles attracted significant reader feedback, a selection of which was published in our letters pages”. The newspaper stated that the breeder agreed to give an interview which would allow him to respond to criticisms of the industry. The newspaper said that it decided to use a questions and answers format so that readers would be aware that the views expressed were those of the interviewee. The editor noted “in format and tone the Q and A is entirely and plainly different from a standard news article”.
The editor noted that the publication of a letter was entirely at the discretion of an editor and that Greyhound Action Ireland had previously had a letter published in the Irish Examiner. In this particular case the newspaper took the view that it would not publish the letter submitted by Greyhound Action Ireland as “no right of reply” existed in this particular case.
The submissions then went on to address some of the claims of inaccuracy made by the complainants. The editor noted that the journalist who carried out the interview had challenged the breeder “on a number of points throughout in a bid to further tease out (the breeder’s) thinking on those points”.
As the complaint could not be resolved by conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
I can find no breach of Principle 1.1. It is widely accepted that when an interview format is used that readers are fully aware that what they are reading is the responses to questions of the interviewee and readers are capable of deciding for themselves if they accept the views expressed or not. The greyhound breeder and trainer was giving his opinions on challenges faced by the greyhound industry. I can appreciate that Greyhound Action Ireland might disagree with the views expressed by the interviewee and might wish to see their contrary views published. The newspaper was not endorsing the views of the breeder, it was using its pages to provide a platform for debate.
Principle 1.2 and 1.3
The Irish Examiner was under no obligation to provide a right of reply to Greyhound Action Ireland or to publish a clarification or correction. There was disagreement between the complainants and the newspaper on the accuracy or otherwise of some of the comments made by the interviewee. However as what was published was clearly no more than the opinion of the interviewee there was no requirement to address their accuracy and therefore no requirement to correct or clarify anything published in the interview.
31 March 2021