Fuels for Ireland and The Irish Times
The Press Ombudsman has decided not to uphold a complaint made by Fuels for Ireland about an article published in June 2023 on the Science and Climate section of The Irish Times.
The article is an opinion piece titled “The Trouble With Renewable Diesel”. The complainant stated that it breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) of the Code of Practice, Principle 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment), Principle 3 (Fair Procedure and Honesty) and Principle 4 (Respect for Rights.) The Irish Times denied breaching any of these Principles.
In summary, the complainant said the article “fundamentally misrepresents” Fuels for Ireland’s position on hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) by claiming that the organisation advocates for its use, “claiming it as a sustainable and convenient alternative to diesel that could cut carbon dioxide pollution by more than 80%.”. Fuels for Ireland said the first part of the claim was untrue, and that it was misleading not to provide the wider context. The organisation said it takes a “technology neutral” position, and that it advocates for a range of solutions “as well as HVO”.
Fuels for Ireland said part of the statement relating to HVO as an alternative to diesel was not a claim but a matter of fact. It said the HVO it marketed met international sustainability standards, that it was clearly accurate to say it was convenient to use, and that it was a scientific fact that it cut pollution to the extent it had stated.
Fuels for Ireland said The Irish Times had taken no reasonable steps to check the facts, as required under Principle 4 of the Code, and that by failing to report that the organisation had urged the Government and EU institutions to meet the same standards upon which Fuels for Ireland insists, it had been “so incomplete as to be misleading”. It said opinions had been presented as facts. It said the article had unjustifiably damaged the organisation’s reputation.
It said this was compounded by The Irish Times’ “refusal to provide an appropriate and fair remedy”. The offer the newspaper made, suggesting submission of a “Letter to the Editor” was inappropriate, the organisation said, arguing that a “right of reply” article for the “Science and Climate” section of the publication was required.
The Irish Times responded by asserting that there was “no factual error” in the piece. The publication supplied links to the lobbying register and articles to back the claim that Fuels for Ireland had lobbied for the greater use of HVO. The editor said the piece had not claimed, as asserted by the complainant, that Fuels for Ireland ignored any risk associated with the use of HVO. It said the piece was based on analysing material that was on the public record, and there was no obligation to contact Fuels for Ireland for comment.
On Principle 1, the editor said there was no inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion to correct, clarify or apologise for, but stated that the newspaper’s suggestion that Fuels for Ireland could submit a Letter to the Editor was still open. On Principle 2, the editor cited the Code: “The press is entitled to advocate strongly its own views on topics”. It said the author of the piece was entitled to give her analysis and opinion on Fuels for Ireland and related issues, and there was no mixing up of comment and fact.
On Principle 3, the editor said there had been no unfairness and no dishonesty about the way the information used in the article was gathered, that the author was an expert in the field, and that the piece was based on material that was on the public record. On Principle 4, the editor said no one from Fuels for Ireland was named so no one’s good name was impacted. He said the article was not based on “malicious representation or unfounded accusations” but on carefully checked facts.
On Principle 1 the Press Ombudsman finds that the complainant has not identified any inaccuracy, distortion, or misleading statement. Notably, by its own account, Fuels for Ireland does advocate the use of HVO, and does make large claims for its usefulness. The publication is not obliged to contextualise this with reference to other decarbonising options for which the organisation also advocates. The piece is about HVO. There is no breach of Principle 1.
This is a piece of commentary. Principle 2 states that “the press is entitled to advocate strongly its own views on topics” and the Press Ombudsman finds that this article does so responsibly, with due regard for the facts and within a broad context. It is written by an academic expert, a Professor of Sustainable Energy. The complainant disagrees strongly with the arguments presented, but provides no evidence of reliance on conjecture, rumour, or unconfirmed reports. There is no breach of Principle 2.
On Principle 3, the Press Ombudsman finds that in its response to the complaint, the publication provides evidence that indicates the article is well founded in authoritative material that is on the public record and is readily accessible. There is no evidence of unfair procedures or a lack of honesty. Indeed, in its claim that there is misrepresentation – which the Press Ombudsman finds to be unsubstantiated – the complainant states that it accepts that this is “inadvertent”. There is no breach of Principle 3.
Principle 4 upholds the rights of individuals to protect their good name. This article is not about individuals and insofar as it refers to Fuels for Ireland it relies on taking issue with positions demonstrably taken by the organisation. There is no evidence that it has resorted to malicious misrepresentation or the use of unfounded accusations in framing its disagreement with the organisation. As stated already in this decision, the Press Ombudsman finds that the article is at pains to establish the facts upon which it bases its arguments. There is no breach of Principle 4 of othe Code.
17 October 2023