Mr Sean McGlynn and the Donegal News
The Press Ombudsman has upheld a complaint made by Mr Sean McGlynn that a court report published in the Donegal News on 27 March 2015 breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.
On 27 March 2015 the Donegal News carried a Circuit Court report where the judge criticised Mr McGlynn, a solicitor, for not filing a defence on behalf of his clients. Mr McGlynn had been the defendants’ solicitor but they were now represented in court by a different solicitor. The account of the court case stated that Mr McGlynn “was ‘struck off’ after he was found guilty of misconduct last year by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal”. The account went on to report the defendants’ current solicitor as stating Sean McGlynn was representing them (the defendants) but he never filed a defence on their behalf despite paying him. It further reported the defendants’ solicitor as stating “He (McGlynn) has since been struck off.”
The court report was first published on the Donegal News website. On 26 March Mr McGlynn contacted the newspaper stating he had not been struck off by the Law Society. He requested that the article be removed from the newspaper’s website and not be published in the print edition due the following day. Mr McGlynn sent two emails to the Donegal News on 26 March (one timed 3.29pm, the other 6.24pm). In the latter email he made reference to the fact that the newspaper had indicated that it intended to go ahead with publication in print of the court report on the following day.
On 10 April (two weeks after the initial report) the Donegal News carried a further court report under the heading “Solicitor refutes ‘struck off’ claim”. This report detailed how Mr McGlynn had appeared before the court and stated that he wanted to put on record that he had never been struck off. The report quoted Mr McGlynn as saying “My current standing is I am still a solicitor and on the Roll of Solicitors. I have never been removed. I am not practising as I closed my practice of my own accord”.
A month later Mr McGlynn made a formal complaint to the Press Ombudsman’s Office claiming that the Donegal News on 27 March had breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy), Principle 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment), Principle 4 (Respect for Rights) and Principle 7 (Court Reporting) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.
During the conciliation process the Donegal News offered to publish a clarification which would state that the Law Society of Ireland had confirmed that its records showed that Mr McGlynn had never been struck off the Roll of Solicitors. The wording of the clarification was unacceptable to Mr McGlynn.
The Press Ombudsman’s Office received no information as to whether or not the newspaper made any effort to contact the Law Society of Ireland to check if Mr McGlynn had been struck off the Roll of Solicitors. It is noted that the timeframe was very tight. The first email was timed at having been sent at 3.29pm. If it had been picked up at the time it was sent there might have been time to make inquiries in regard to Mr McGlynn’s status as a solicitor. This Office is unaware as to what deadline there was for the newspaper to amend a report before printing took place. It is possible the deadline for amending the edition of the newspaper for 27 March had already passed when Mr McGlynn’s emails were received.
The complaint was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
What was published in the Donegal News website on 26 March was a substantially accurate account of what had been said in court on 25 March (although there remains an unresolved issue as to whether there had been a reference to the Solicitors’ Disciplinary Tribunal during the hearing). However, between the publication of the online article and the publication in print of the court report the newspaper had been contacted by the complainant and had been informed that what had been stated in court was significantly inaccurate. Having been informed by Mr McGlynn that he had not been “struck off” it is my view that there was an obligation on the newspaper under Principle 1 of the Code to check if Mr McGlynn had been struck off or not and on establishing that he had not, to publish a correction promptly and with due prominence. If there was insufficient time to check this before the publication of the article in print on 27 March there was ample time to check this before the publication of the next edition of the newspaper on 3 April. This would have allowed the newspaper to carry a correction in the edition immediately following the one that carried the initial report. I am therefore upholding this complaint on the grounds of a breach of Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy).
Other parts of Mr McGlynn’s complaint are not upheld.
Mr McGlynn’s complaints under Principle 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment), Principle 4 (Respect for Rights) and Principle 7 (Court Reporting) are not upheld. Principle 2 was not breached as there was no failure in the report to distinguish between fact and comment. Principle 4 was not breached as nothing was published based on malicious misrepresentation or unfounded accusations. Principle 7 was not breached because what was published was a fair and accurate report of what was said in court (although what was stated in court was subsequently found to be significantly inaccurate).
4 Augst 2015