3801/2019 - Mr Niall Doyle and the Sunday World
The Press Ombudsman has not upheld a complaint by Mr Niall Doyle that the Sunday World breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy), Principle 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment), Principle 3 (Fair Procedures and Honesty), Principle 4 (Respect for Rights) and Principle 7 (Court Reporting) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.
The Sunday World on 27 May 2018 published an article about Mr Niall Doyle, the complainant, in which it was claimed that Mr Doyle had posted a series “of shocking and false Facebook posts” about a named woman. The article claimed that the “cruel taunts” only stopped when Mr Doyle was questioned by the Gardaí after the woman made a complaint.
Mr Doyle wrote to the editor of the Sunday World claiming that the article breached a number of Principles of the Code of Practice.
He complained that the journalist who wrote the story had engaged in subterfuge and harassment, in breach of Principle 3 of the Code, and that publication of the article breached Principle 7 of the Code as it prejudiced ongoing court proceedings. He also said that the article contained a number of “untruths” which adversely affected his good name, in breach of Principles 1, 2, 4 and 7 of the Code.
Mr Doyle complained that a number of insulting words were used in the article to describe him, including the word “demented” which, he said, implied that that he suffered from “dementia or a related mental illness”, which was not the case.
He complained that the article suggested he was a criminal and that he had already been criminally convicted regarding the ongoing court case, although at the time the article was published he had not been criminally convicted as the case was “still before court“
He complained that the article had claimed that he had “refused to talk to the reporter when confronted”. He said that he was not “confronted” by the reporter as he had agreed to meet her but had told her that he could not talk to the media as it might prejudice a court case.
He complained that he had been misrepresented in a quote attributed to him in the article that “it’ll be up to the Judge to decide whether they are vile or not”. He said that what he actually stated was “Well let the judge be the judge of that”.
He complained that the article had inaccurately stated that “He then hid in a local pub before attempting to sneak off to a train station where he was snapped by our photographer”. He said this was inaccurate because he did not hide from anyone and he was “snapped” on the street and not in a train station.
He complained that a statement in the article that he was released on bail pending the completion of a report ordered by a Judge was inaccurate because, he said, he was never on bail.
The Sunday World defended the publication of the article on the grounds that the subject matter of the article - sending alleged abusive messages on social media - was a matter of “huge public concern” and reporting on it was in the public interest.
The Sunday World rejected Mr Doyle’s complaint that it engaged in “subterfuge” in the setting up of the meeting with him because prior to the meeting the journalist had clearly identified herself as a journalist who was investigating a story.
The newspaper defended the taking and publication of the photograph of Mr Doyle, stating that the taking of photographs of individuals involved in court cases, without first seeking permission, was a well-established principle and was overwhelmingly in the public interest
The newspaper rejected Mr Doyle’s claims that the article prejudiced the outcome of his court case and said that clearly his activities, as described in court, could be described in the terms outlined in the article by any ordinary, right-thinking person.
The newspaper defended the accuracy of the quotes attributed to Mr Doyle in the article saying that the journalist had kept her notes and also remembered what Mr Doyle had said. However, the newspaper said that to the extent that the article may have been inaccurate in saying that Mr Doyle had pleaded guilty before the court, or that he had been released on bail, it would be willing to publish a clarification on these matters.
As the subject matter of the article under complaint was before the court consideration of the complaint by the Office of the Press Ombudsman was postponed until all court proceedings had been completed. In November 2019 Mr Doyle confirmed that all legal proceedings were completed and the complaint was reactivated.
As the complaint could not be resolved by conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
I am not upholding this complaint for the following reasons.
I have no persuasive evidence that the article breached Principle 1 of the Code.
The newspaper said that to the extent that the article may have been inaccurate in saying that Mr Doyle had pleaded guilty before the Court it would be willing to publish a clarification of the matter. It also offered to clarify Mr Doyle’s bail status. The newspaper offered sufficient remedial action to resolve this part of the complaint.
Mr Doyle’s claim about the meaning of the word “demented”, used in the article to describe his behaviour, is very narrow and does not reflect common usage of the word.
There is no failure in the article to distinguish between fact and comment.
Mr Doyle claims Principle 3 was breached because the journalist who approached him and the photographer who photographed him engaged in subterfuge and harassment. The submissions from Mr Doyle and the Sunday World give conflicting accounts. The Sunday World claims that the journalist seeking to meet Mr Doyle informed him that she was a journalist working on a story. I am not in a position to determine which account is accurate.
I can find no example of malicious misrepresentation or unfounded accusations in the report or that the journalist responsible for the report failed to take reasonable care in checking facts before publication.
There is no breach of Principle 7 in the report. Principle 7 requires “fair and accurate” court reporting. If there were any inaccuracies in the report they were not of any significance and could not be regarded as a breach of this Principle. I cannot find anything in the article which would be prejudicial to the right to a fair trial, the central requirement of Principle
4 February 2020
The complainant appealed the decision of the Press Ombudsman to the Press Council of Ireland on the grounds that the Press Ombudsman had erred in his application of the Code of Practice.
At its meeting on 22 April 2020, the Press Council decided to reject the appeal as it did not contain sufficient evidence on the grounds cited, and that the Ombudsman had not erred in his application of the code.