A Man and the Irish Examiner
The Press Ombudsman had upheld a complaint by a man that an article published by the Irish Examiner online breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland. A claim that Principle 7 (Court Reporting) was breached was not upheld.
The Irish Examiner published a court report in print and online on a conviction of a defendant for obstructing a drugs search which included the defendant’s name and attributed an address to him.
A man (the complainant) contacted the editor of the Irish Examiner stating that the address attributed to the defendant in the court report was not the defendant’s address, but his. An Garda Síochána provided the complainant with a formal notification that the address given in court was not that of the defendant and that the defendant had never lived at that address. The address had been entered on the Garda PULSE system erroneously.
The editor of the Irish Examiner said that he could not delete the address as it could open the newspaper up to the possibility that someone in the same road sharing the same name could initiate legal action against it. He offered to publish a clarification which would state that a statement released by An Garda Síochána confirmed that the defendant does not, and has never, lived at the address and that the defendant did not have “any associations with any persons who resided at this address”. The editor offered to publish the clarification in a forthcoming edition and to append it to the original story online and ensure that the original story carried a warning against republication of the address in the editorial database.
The man was not satisfied with this response from the editor as he feared that if someone googled his address the court report would appear, and he feared that his home might be associated with drugs. He requested that his address be removed from the online version of the report.
The editor reiterated his reasons for not being able to delete the address from the online article and offered to append the clarification to the top of the article.
The man remained dissatisfied with this response by the editor. As the complaint could not be resolved by conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
This Principle requires the press to strive at all times for truth and accuracy. It also requires the press where a significant inaccuracy has been published to correct that inaccuracy promptly and with due prominence. There is no dispute that the wrong address of the defendant was given in court and that the complainant’s address had been given as the defendant’s address. When this was brought to the attention of the editor he went some distance to address the issues raised by the complainant by offering to publish a clarification in the print edition of the Irish Examiner and to append it to the online article. The complainant was not satisfied that the amendment to the online article was sufficient. He wanted his address removed from the online article.
In determining if Principle 1 has been breached consideration has to be given to the possibility that the publication concerned has offered to take, or has taken, action which … is or was sufficient to resolve (the) complaint. The editor’s offer to publish a clarification in the print edition was sufficient to resolve that part of the complaint relating to the print article. However, his decision to maintain the report online with the incorrect address of the defendant, albeit with an explanation about the Garda clarification of the error in the wrong address being attributed to the defendant in court proceedings, was a breach of Principle 1. The editor’s concern about the possibility that other people with the same name might be able to take legal action against his newspaper unless an address was given for the defendant could have been overcome by either amending the online article in a more thorough manner or by deleting the article from the online archive. It is understandable that editors are resistant to deleting court reports, but in this instance the court report contained a significant inaccuracy that was fundamentally unfair to a person who had nothing whatsoever to do with the trial and the newspaper was therefore obliged to find some method of addressing this unfairness. The proposal by the editor to address the inaccuracy was not an adequate response.
This Principle requires the press to strive to ensure that court reports are fair and accurate. What was published on 24 January in the Irish Examiner was a fair and accurate account of what had been said in court and therefore there is no breach of Principle 7.
14 June 2018
Note: The complainant exercised his right under data protection legislation to have the decision reported in an anonymous form.
The Newspaper appealed the decision of the Press Ombudsman to the Press Council of Ireland. Click here to read the Decision of the Press Council.