A Man and the Herald.ie*
The Press Ombudsman has decided not to uphold a complaint by a man against the Herald.ie
The Herald.ie published a court report about the outcome of a district court case in Dublin. The report outlined how the complainant had been convicted of selling a bicycle which had been stolen. The report included evidence given in court that the complainant was at a low point in his life as he had been laid off from his employment and that he had no previous convictions. The report was accompanied by a photograph of him on a bicycle.
He claimed that the report breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy), Principle 3 (Fair Procedures and Honesty) and Principle 8 (Prejudice) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland. He argued that Principle 1 had been breached because some of the information published was inaccurate, and because some of the mitigating circumstances given by his solicitor had not been included in the report, thus resulting in a distorted report. He argued that Principle 3 had been breached as his nationality, his address and his photograph had been published. He submitted examples of other court reports published by the Herald.ie where this information in relation to the convicted person had not been included. He claimed Principle 8 had been breached as the reference to his nationality could be interpreted as “stirring up hatred against an individual on the basis of … nationality”.
The Herald.ie defended the report by saying that the report was a true and accurate account of the criminal proceedings taken against the complainant and that the proceedings were reported on as a matter of public interest. The Herald.ie also said that the photograph that was published was taken when both the photographer and the complainant were in a public place.
As the complaint could not be resolved through conciliation it was referred to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
The complainant committed a crime and was convicted. Clearly he would prefer if that conviction had not been reported and that information about the court proceedings was not available on the internet. However it is universally accepted that the administration of justice must be in public and that it is only in exceptional circumstances that limitations may be imposed on reporting.
The complainant claims that the report was in some way inaccurate because the account failed to include mitigating circumstances outlined by his solicitor. However a newspaper is free to decide what is the essence of a court case and to limit its account to that essence provided it is fair and accurate. I do not find any breach of Principle 1 in the report. What was published did not distort what took place in court.
I also cannot find any breach of Principle 3. No evidence has been produced that the account was based on facts which were not procured in a fair and honest manner. Neither was any evidence produced that the photograph used to illustrate the article had been obtained through misrepresentation, subterfuge or harassment. Finally I can find no breach of Principle 8. The article reported the complainant’s nationality. This was factually accurate and its publication would not have caused grave offence or stirred up hatred on the basis of nationality.
14 October 2015
*This decision was anonymised at the request of the complainant.