Northway Estate Residents’ Association and The Herald
The Press Ombudsman has decided to uphold a complaint made by Northway Estate Residents’ Association that an article published in The Herald on 10 April 2015 breached Principles 1 (Truth and Accuracy) and 4 (Respect for Rights) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.
The Herald published, under the heading “Racist thugs have made us prisoners in our own home”, an account of how a mother and her five children had been living in terror at their Dublin home as a result of racist abuse. The report quoted the mother as claiming that her children were “too afraid to play outside their house for fear of being the victims of racial attacks”. The mother also claimed that her car had been vandalised on “numerous occasions”. The mother said that she was “too afraid to notify the Gardaí of the incidents in case there are repercussions”.
The local residents’ association, the Northway Estate Residents’ Association, wrote to the editor of The Herald claiming that the story was fabricated, that the children played happily outside their home every day and that the family’s car had not been vandalised.
The editor responded by saying that the article was “a fair and accurate representation of the views of the family in question” and that the report had not claimed that any resident of the Northway Estate had carried out a “racist attack”. The editor went on to say that as a courtesy the article had been removed from the online version of The Herald.
In subsequent correspondence the residents’ association claimed that the reporter had not spoken to any neighbours of the family in an attempt to verify the mother’s claims or to visit the estate to see if her children were in fact playing outside their home. The residents’ association claimed that the newspaper had accepted as fact the claims of the mother and had not sought any proof.
A telephone conversation between the editor and the complainant did not resolve the complaint. During the call the editor made an offer that in a future edition of The Herald some of the good work carried out by the residents’ association could be highlighted. The complainant did not accept this offer as sufficient to address the complaint.
At this point a complaint was made to the Press Ombudsman’s Office. The newspaper in its submission to the Press Ombudsman’s Office stated that the article had been based on the claims of the mother and that it had “no reason to doubt the veracity of any of (her) claims”. The newspaper also stated the article had not claimed that any of the attacks on the family had been carried out by residents of the estate where the family lived.
As a resolution of the complaint could not be conciliated it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
I am upholding this complaint on the grounds that Principle 1 and Principle 4 of the Code of Practice have been breached. Principle 1 states the press shall strive at all times for truth and accuracy. Principle 4 states that newspapers must take reasonable care in checking facts before publication.
The newspaper claimed it had no doubt about the veracity of the claims of the mother, yet it provided no information on any checks that might reasonably have expected to be carried out to test the claims made by her. Sheltering behind the defence that the claims of the mother were only reported as her comments and that the newspaper hadn’t asserted that the claims were true is an inadequate defence when serious claims of wrongdoing have been published.
A complaint under Principle 2 is not upheld, as I can find no evidence of a failure to distinguish between fact and comment in the article.
8 July 2015