Emerald Business Consulting, City Trust & Corporate Services, Mr Danny Cox and The Irish Times
The Press Ombudsman has upheld a complaint made by Emerald Business Consulting Limited and Mr Danny Cox that an article published by The Irish Times breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) and Principle 3 (Fair Procedures and Honesty) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.
Mr Cox complained that he was not given a fair chance to deal with allegations contained in an article, published online on 8 March 2017 and in print the following day, and that it was impossible for him to provide any kind of substantial “on the record” comment in the limited time available to him. He also complained about a number of statements in the article, including one that attempts to contact him were “not successful”.
Mr Cox received an email from the newspaper shortly after 2 pm on 8 March with a number of queries relating to Emerald Business Consulting (of which he is a director). No deadline was given for a response. The email referred to documents filed with a Spanish court that allegedly showed that two former Spanish politicians received substantial payments through Emerald Business Consulting. Mr Cox responded just after 7 pm indicating that he was travelling and would look into the matter at his “earliest convenience”. The newspaper responded an hour later saying they would be “running a story tomorrow” and if he would like to make a comment he would be provided with the opportunity to do so. Mr Cox contacted his solicitors who, three hours later, emailed a letter to the newspaper on a “not for publication” basis responding to some of the queries raised. The letter denied any suggestion that Emerald Business Consulting made any payment to the politicians in question, and stated that Mr Cox had no knowledge of the transaction or the Spanish proceedings raised by the newspaper.
The article was published online later that evening and in print the following day. The headline stated “Investigators claim Spanish politicians used Irish company as a front” and contained a statement that attempts to contact Mr Cox were not successful.
Through the Office’s conciliation process the newspaper said that the article was, in essence, correct, and that attempts to contact Mr Cox had been unsuccessful at the time the story was written and filed. It offered, however, to publish a correction stating that Mr Cox had, in fact, been in contact with the newspaper, and it apologised for the error. It said it was also prepared to publish a follow-up article which would state the position of Mr Cox on three specific matters he raised in his complaint. This offer was deemed to be inadequate by Mr Cox as he continued to contend that a number of other statements in the article about which he had complained were false.
As the complaint could not be resolved by conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
The publication of the statement in the report that attempts to contact Mr Cox had been unsuccessful was clearly inaccurate and therefore a breach of Principle 1. The newspaper’s apology and offer to publish a correction, made after a formal complaint had been received by the Office of the Press Ombudsman, were judged to be insufficient to resolve the complaint given that other aspects of the complaint remained unresolved.
When significant adverse allegations are being published about an individual or company, the subject of such allegations should be given sufficient opportunity to respond. The opportunity provided in this instance was inadequate and the article therefore also breached Principle 3.1 of the Code.
Sufficient action was offered by the newspaper to resolve another part of Mr Cox’s complaint.
Mr Cox complained about the linking of another company of which he is a Director, City Trust & Corporate Services Limited to the story. The newspaper apologised for linking the company to the story and offered to publish a correction addressing this. The offer to publish a correction stating that City Trust & Corporate Services was not associated with the story was sufficient to resolve this aspect of the complaint.
There was insufficient evidence to make a decision on other parts of Mr Cox’s complaint.
Mr Cox also complained about two particular statements in the article, which he said were false. The first statement, which was also referenced in the headline, was that a company (i.e. Emerald Business Consulting) was used “as a front” to receive bribery payments, which was attributed to investigators in Madrid. The second statement was that Emerald Business Consulting was a company that had “no commercial motive” which was attributed to a Spanish high court judge and contained, the article said, in the court documents. Mr Cox said that he did not believe that these statements were contained in any of the documents in relation to the Spanish investigation, and that he understood the file did not state or support these allegations, and the claims were therefore in breach of Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) and Principle 7 (Court Reporting) of the Code of Practice. He asked that the newspaper provide an independent translation of what the investigator’s file actually said, or unequivocal written confirmation that the investigation file and/or the investigators stated to the newspaper that the company was “used” as a “front” for the politicians in question and that the judge stated that the company had “no commercial motive”.
The Irish Times stood over its reporting of the two statements complained about, and said that the translation (of the investigator’s file) was a direct translation. It said that the contents of the file justified the central allegation in the article, and that the main thrust of the article was correct.
The statements complained about were credited to court documents, written in Spanish. Newspapers are entitled to report on any evidence or statements contained in open court documents. However, without independent corroboration of the relevant sections of the court documents, and without independent corroboration of their translation into English, it is not possible for the Press Ombudsman to determine the accuracy or otherwise of the translation and reporting of the two statements complained about.
30 August 2017