Lynn Boylan MEP and Independent.ie
The Press Ombudsman has not upheld a complaint made by Lynn Boylan MEP that Independent.ie breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy), Principle 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment) and Principle 4 (Respect for Rights) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.
On 29 March 2016 Independent.ie published an article under the heading “Sinn Féin’s deluded 1916 narrative now cited by dissidents to justify murder”. The article was accompanied by a photograph of Lynn Boylan, the complainant.
The article reported that Lynn Boylan had complained about the exclusion of Easter lilies and their replacement by daffodils from ceremonies at the GPO commemorating the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising. The article made the point that the Easter lily had been adopted as a symbol by “those who believe in militant republicanism” and had come to be associated with supporters of the Provisional IRA and Sinn Féin. The article was critical of the manner in which some republicans used the legacy of the 1916 Rising to justify the IRA campaigns of the 1970s, 80s and 90s. The article did distinguish however between older generations of Sinn Féin politicians and the “new generation” including Lynn Boylan who were “devoid of the whiff of cordite”.
Ms Boylan’s primary complaint was, she said, that the article linked her “personally with (the) justification of murder” through the headline and the use of a “large photograph” of her accompanying the article. She claimed this was a “deliberate attempt to malign (her) good name”. She said it was untruthful and inaccurate and therefore a breach of Principle 1.
She also claimed that the article breached Principle 2 as it linked her to Republican Sinn Féin, a very different organisation, she said, from the Sinn Féin which she represented. This claimed link, she went on to say, reflected the opinion of the author only and was therefore a breach of the requirement to distinguish between fact and comment.
She further claimed that Principle 4 had been breached as her good name had not been protected by the manner in which the article had “assumed (her) thought processes based on a brief 15 worded tweet”.
The Group Managing Editor of Independent News and Media responded on behalf of Independent.ie to Ms Boylan’s complaint. He rejected Ms Boylan’s arguments that the article had breached the Code of Practice. He stated that the inclusion of the photograph of Ms Boylan was appropriate as it was her tweet comment that precipitated the article. He argued that the article contained no inaccuracy and therefore there was no breach of Principle 1.
He argued that there was no breach of Principle 2 as the article was clearly an opinion piece and therefore there was no confusion of fact and comment. He pointed out that the publication would have “been happy” to publish a letter from Ms Boylan subject to the “normal editorial and legal checks”, an offer already made to Ms Boylan.
In regard to Principle 4 he stated that Ms Boylan should be able to “accept a well-argued counterview” to the view she expressed in her tweet which was “clearly designed to be part of a debate on the wider issue of how the Irish State commemorated the centenary of the 1916 Rising”.
As the complaint could not be resolved through conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
Those who participate in political discourse can expect that their views will be challenged in a robust manner by political opponents and by commentators in the media. Newspapers are free to publish opinion pieces as long as they are factually correct in what is written and are clearly understood to be commentary and do not breach any of the Principles of the Code of Practice. Ms Boylan is an elected representative and can expect commentators to express disagreement with her views. In a tweet she raised a question about the apparent exclusion of Easter lilies from the 1916 Rising commemoration services. I can find no evidence that there was any inaccuracy in what was published or that the Independent.ie failed to distinguish between fact and commentary. I believe the inclusion of Ms Boylan’s photograph was appropriate in the circumstances. I also believe that the headline, though expressing a strongly held view that Ms Boylan would completely reject, was not inappropriate given the contents of the article. Therefore there was no breach of Principles 1 or 2.
I also believe that any reader of the article in Independent.ie would be able to distinguish between Ms Boylan’s membership of Sinn Féin and those members of Republican Sinn Féin who engaged in the paramilitary styled march through Dublin referred to in the article. The link between the two groups alluded to in the article was the use of the 1916 Rising legacy to justify republican activities. However, the author did differentiate between the two groups. These opinions were clearly indicated as the views of the commentator and therefore there was no breach of the Code.
In regard to Principle 4 it is my view that in most instances the right to one’s reputation is not damaged by commentary, however robustly challenging, unless there is inaccuracy in what is published or a distortion of views. These did not occur in what was published on 29 March.
1 September 2016