Mr Patrick Hurley and the Irish Independent
The Press Ombudsman has decided that the Irish Independent offered to take action which would have been sufficient to resolve a complaint by Mr Patrick Hurley that the newspaper breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) and Principle 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.
On 13 September 2017 the Irish Independent reported on its front page that the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) had advised that the retirement age would have to be pushed back to 70 years as people were living longer and the cost of funding pensions was, therefore, increasing to unsustainable levels. The headline on the report was “Now we’re going to have to work until we reach 70”. There was in addition a sub-heading “Budget tax cuts risk overheating economy, government warned”.
Mr Hurley wrote to the editor of the Irish Independent stating that the headline was “blatantly untrue” and asked the newspaper to publish a correction.
The Irish Independent replied saying that “the headline has to be read in context”. It said the article clearly states that the ESRI is proposing the raising of the retirement age to 70. The editor offered to publish a letter from Mr Hurley in the Irish Independent.
Mr Hurley was not satisfied with this response and made a formal complaint to the Office of the Press Ombudsman stating that Principles 1 and 2 of the Code of Practice had been breached. Mr Hurley emphasised in his complaint that the headline was inaccurate and that it was not sufficient for the newspaper to say that the headline had to be considered along with the article.
The Irish Independent in a submission to the Office of the Press Ombudsman stated that the headline and the sub-headline accurately reflected the story, that the headline sought to “represent the viewpoint of the ESRI presentation that the pension age should be raised to 70” and that the sub-headline made it clear that the government had been warned of this need. The submission stated “there is no basis for the contention that (the newspaper) had put forward a misleading headline”. The newspaper repeated its offer to publish a letter from Mr Hurley. It also offered to meet Mr Hurley and have one of its journalists explain the “processes and care” the newspaper undertakes in headline writing.
Mr Hurley in response to the newspaper’s submission stated that readers “having read both the headline and the sub-headline, are left in no doubt that the Irish Independent is reporting that we’re going to have to work until we reach 70”.
As the complaint could not be resolved by conciliation it was referred to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
For the avoidance of any ambiguity it would have been better if the headline on the article published on 13 September had been within inverted commas or if there had been some reference to the ESRI report in the headline. This would have indicated clearly that the headline referred to the advice of the ESRI. However, I do not think it unreasonable for the newspaper to claim that the sub-headline made it clear to readers that the main headline referred to a warning given to government rather than an actual fact. Taking account of the newspaper’s offer to publish a letter from Mr Hurley where he could have argued his case that the headline was inaccurate, I believe sufficient action was offered by the newspaper to resolve the complaint.
20 October 2017