Mr Paul Murphy TD and The Irish Times

By admin
Thursday, 9th November 2017
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The Press Ombudsman has not upheld a complaint by Mr Paul Murphy TD that The Irish Times breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland. 

The Irish Times on 12 July 2017 published an article under the headline “Paul Murphy wraps himself in Jobstown martyrdom”. The article appeared in a regular column which frequently uses irony to comment on current events. The article was a commentary on a protest in Jobstown which resulted in Deputy Murphy facing court charges (for which he was cleared).  Deputy Murphy wrote to the editor of The Irish Times stating that the article was an “inaccurate summation of the nature of the protest”. He summarised his complaint as threefold 1) “the clear and false implication that protestors were banging on car windows for hours”, 2) “the reference to Joan Burton and Karen O’Connell (the Tánaiste’s assistant) being “trapped for hours” as a matter of fact” and 3) “the clear and false implication that (he) was hiding behind Dáil privilege to make claims of perjury”.

The editor of The Irish Times in a submission to the Office of the Press Ombudsman stood over the article and stated that the article had not claimed the banging on the car windows had continued for hours, rather that “these things occurred while the women were trapped in the car”. The editor stated that Deputy Murphy referred “selectively to video footage and transcripts made available by the “jobstownnotguilty” website and other matter”. He stated that there was contradictory evidence at Deputy Murphy’s trial and that the conclusion of the jury was that the persons charged were not guilty, not that the women were not falsely imprisoned. The editor concluded by offering, in “the interests of conciliation” to consider a letter for publication from Deputy Murphy.

Deputy Murphy replied to the editor’s response and stated that the article had contained “unfounded assertions about the events” at the Jobstown protest. He pointed out that the jury at the trial was only “entitled to determine the guilt or innocence of the accused” and not to decide on other matters. He also noted that the editor had not addressed his complaint that he had “hidden behind Dáil privilege to make claims of perjury”.

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

There is a degree of licence available to commentators, especially when readers are aware of the use of irony by the commentator.  However, the obligation not to breach any of the Principles of the Code of Practice applies in all instances.

I have insufficient evidence to make a decision on the first two parts of Deputy Murphy’s complaint. Having read the submissions made to my office I am unable to determine how long the Tánaiste and her assistant were trapped in their car or how long the banging on the windows and the shouting of obscenities lasted.

The third part of Deputy Murphy’s complaint refers to a statement in the article that he

“ … disregarded repeated invitations from Minister of State for Finance Patrick O’Donovan to repeat his allegations outside the protection of the chamber.”  

He complained that this statement gave a clear and false implication that he was hiding behind Dáil privilege to make claims of perjury.  To support his complaint he provided a link to a report in the Irish Examiner published a week earlier on 5 July which carried a statement from him that said he believed that perjury was committed by the gardaí in the case.

The statement complained about was published a week later in The Irish Times following a robust exchange in the Dáil and referred only to what had been said in the Dáil.      It did not state that Deputy Murphy did not or would not repeat his claims outside the Dáil, but that he had disregarded the repeated invitations by Minister O’Donovan in the Dáil for him to do so.

Deputy Murphy acknowledged that it was accurate that he didn’t respond to Minister O’Donovan’s comments in the Dáil (he said that he hadn’t heard them at the time). In these circumstances, Deputy Murphy’s complaint that the statement that he disregarded invitations from Minister of State O’Donovan to repeat allegations outside the protection of the chamber implied that he was hiding behind Dáil privilege is not upheld, as the statement referred only to his disregard in the Dáil of the comments by Minister of State O’Donovan.

17 August 2017

The complainant appealed against the Decision of the Press Ombudsman to the Press Council of Ireland.

Decision of the Press Council

The complainant submitted an appeal on the grounds (i) that significant new information is available that could not or was not made available to the Press Ombudsman before he made his decision, and (ii) that there has been an error I the Press Ombudsman’s application of the Principles of the Code of Practice. The Press Council at its meeting on 3 November 2017 considered the matter and decided there was insufficient evidence provided to support the appeal on either ground and that the decision of the Press Ombudsman therefore stands.