284/2020 - Medical Negligence Ireland and the Western People
The Press Ombudsman has not upheld a complaint by Medical Negligence Ireland that the Western People breached Principle 3 (Fair Procedures and Honesty) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.
On 2 December 2019 the Western People published an article which commented on a complaint made by the campaign group Medical Negligence Ireland on the condition of the reception area of an Emergency Department in a named hospital.
Mr Eneas Kearney on behalf of Medical Negligence Ireland complained that Principle 3 of the Code of Practice had been breached by the Western People as it had published details of his complaint without his consent. He said that his complaint was about a health and safety matter and that full consultation with him prior to publication was necessary. He said publication of the article without his consultation resulted in "an unsigned and unedited article without (his) permission or final consent".
The editor responded that Mr Kearney "in his capacity as the promoter of Medical Negligence Ireland” approached the Western People with his account of a number of visits he had made to the Emergency Department of the hospital and described what he had witnessed there. He said the newspaper had investigated Mr Kearney's claims and subsequently published a "very comprehensive story in which all sides - Medical Negligence Ireland, HSE and HIQA - were given a full and non-partisan hearing". He further stated that Mr Kearney had not been offered any "final sign-off" on the article before publication.
Mr Kearney, in response, insisted that the newspaper had made an agreement with him and that it had failed to honour the agreement made. As the complaint could not be resolved by conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
Principle 3 of the Code of Practice states
3.1 The press shall strive at all times for fair procedures and honesty in the procuring and publishing of news and information
3.2 The press shall not obtain information, photographs or other material through misrepresentation or subterfuge, unless justified by the public interest.
No evidence has been made available to me that the Western People breached any of the requirements found in Principle 3 of the Code. Mr Kearney complained that he had been assured that he would be contacted by the newspaper before publication. The newspaper said that it was approached about a possible story, that it followed up on the information supplied and having put some of the claims made by the complainant to the relevant authorities published the report. I have no doubt that Mr Kearney believed that he had some kind of agreement with the newspaper. Having considered the two conflicting accounts of what happened I have concluded that there is no evidence that the newspaper was not honest in the procuring and publishing of the information it published and that there was no misrepresentation or subterfuge used in the obtaining of that information. On this basis I have decided that the Western People did not breach Principle 3 of the Code.