A Complainant and The Sunday Times*

By admin
Wednesday, 4th January 2017
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The Press Ombudsman has not upheld a complaint that The Sunday Times breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy), Principle 3 (Fair Procedures and Honesty) and Principle 4 (Respect for Rights) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.

On 4 September 2016 The Sunday Times published an article under the heading “Autism speaker taped extolling bleach remedy”. The article claimed that the charity Irish Autism Action had removed from its Facebook page an advert for an upcoming conference following complaints that a person scheduled to speak at the conference recommended a controversial method for the treatment of  autism involving the drinking of a mix of acid and a chemical compound used in bleaching.  The article stated that the use of chlorine dioxide is not authorised as a medical treatment.  It quoted the scheduled speaker as stating  that she had been informed of the efficacy of this treatment “during a trip abroad, but had never used the treatment on any of her patients”.

The complainant wrote to The Sunday Times claiming the article was unbalanced and biased, that it lacked in-depth research and that it focused on the opinion of one woman with no medical background, while disrespecting the views of leading experts. The complainant also stated that this lack of journalistic integrity showed utter contempt for autism sufferers and their families.  When no response was received to the complaint from the newspaper the complainant submitted the complaint to the Office of the Press Ombudsman under Principles 1, 3 and 4 of the Code of Practice.

The Sunday Times in its formal submission to the Office of the Press Ombudsman stated that there had been no breach of any of the Principles of the Code of Practice cited by the complainant.  The newspaper said that the article had accurately reported that the Facebook page advert for the conference had been taken down. It also said that the scheduled speaker had been taped in a telephone call with a third party advocating the use of the chlorine dioxide protocol

As the complaint could not be resolved through conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision

I can find no evidence that the article breached any of the Principles of the Code cited in the complaint.   Regarding Principle 1, no evidence has been provided to me that anything in the article was inaccurate. 

Principle 3 requires the press to “strive at all times for fair procedures and honesty in the procuring and publishing of news and information”.  No evidence has been produced by the complainant that the newspaper did not approach the subject in a professional manner.  There was no subterfuge or misrepresentation or harassment in the approach taken by the newspaper.

Principle 4 requires the press to not “knowingly publish matter based on malicious misrepresentations or unfounded accusation and must take reasonable care in checking facts before publication”. Critically, the complainant provided no evidence for this.

18 November 2016

*This decision was anonymised at the request of the complainant.