A Man and A Woman and the Irish Daily Star
The Press Ombudsman has upheld a complaint by a man and a woman that the Irish Daily Star breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) and Principle 5 (Privacy) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.
The Irish Daily Star published an article on the subject of a man who had served a sentence for manslaughter as a result of dangerous driving. The Irish Daily Star claimed that the man shortly after his release from prison was involved in a serious car crash and had fled hospital when Gardaí wanted to question him about his driving. Photographs accompanying the article showed him lounging “arrogantly on a sofa” and another of him “with a lady friend”. This woman was not identified by name but her identity was clearly visible in the photograph.
Solicitors representing the man and woman complained to the editor of the Irish Daily Star that the article breached Principles 1 and 5 of the Code of Practice. They claimed that Principle 1 had been breached as the impression was given that the man was on the run from the Gardaí and this was inaccurate. They claimed that Principle 5 had been breached as there was no justification in publishing photographs that identified the woman whom they described as a “private individual of good character”. They claimed that no effort had been made to disguise the woman’s identity in the published image taken from the man’s Facebook page.
The editor did not respond to the solicitors’ letter within two weeks and a formal complaint was made to the Office of the Press Ombudsman. In subsequent correspondence to the Office of the Press Ombudsman solicitors representing the complainants stated that they were “unaware that there is any evidence that our client was wanted for questioning or is still of interest to the Guards in the Republic of Ireland”.
The editor of the Irish Daily Star submitted to the Office of the Press Ombudsman a defence of the article of 27 September stating that the newspaper stood over its publication. He stated that the man was wanted for questioning by the Gardaí, that the photographs had been obtained fairly and that the newspaper was not obliged to conceal the woman’s identity as “she ‘outed’ herself by being publicly pictured with a convicted killer” and that the images had been “published online by the couple themselves”.
As the complaint could not be conciliated it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
In regard to the claim in the article that the man had fled hospital when Gardaí wanted to question him the newspaper produced no supportive evidence for this claim. Solicitors representing the man stated that they had made enquiries with members of An Garda Siochana at the time and were told that their client was not wanted for questioning. It is not possible for the Office of the Press Ombudsman to independently assess these contradictory claims. However, it behoves a newspaper to produce some evidence to support the very serious claim that the complainant was wanted for questioning. As the newspaper hasn’t done so I am upholding the complaint under Principle 1 of the Code of Practice.
I am also upholding the complaint that the publication of the image of the woman was a breach of her privacy. Solicitors representing the woman claim that she is a person of good character who commenced her relationship with the man, the subject of the article, after he was released from prison. I cannot see how it can be in the public interest to identify the woman. The newspaper’s justification that she lost her right to privacy by being associated with the man after he had served his sentence is unconvincing. Therefore, the article breached Principle 5 of the Code.
The complaint was also made that Principle 3 (Fair Procedures and Honesty) had been breached. Solicitors representing the complainants claimed that Principle 3 had been breached as the images used to accompany the article had not been obtained fairly. The relevant part of this Principle refers to obtaining photographs through misrepresentation, subterfuge or harassment. No evidence has been provided that there was any breach of this principle in the manner in which the photograph of the woman was sourced.
15 February 2017