A Man and the Sunday World*

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Tuesday, 16th February 2016
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The Press Ombudsman has decided not to uphold a complaint against the Sunday World.

The Sunday World published a report about a person who advertised on a website a service which generally would be regarded as having aberrant undertones.  The Sunday World sent a reporter to meet the person offering this service. The article was accompanied by a series of photographs of the man meeting the journalist, his face was partially obscured and he was not named.

The complaint is that the newspaper breached Principle 3 (Fair Procedures and Honesty) and Principle 5 (Privacy) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland. The complainant argued that Principle 3 was breached as the newspaper had engaged in entrapment.  He also complained that Principle 5 had been breached as the photographs published had identified him and his occupation.

The Sunday World defended its publication of the article.  The editor stated that the reporter had responded to a public advertisement and that when she met the complainant he outlined his “services”. The editor argued that the man’s occupation required that Gardaí had to check his background to determine if he was “fit and proper” to carry out his occupation.

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

Principle 3.2 states that

3.1 The press shall strive at all times for fair procedures and honesty in the procuring and publishing of news and information.

3.2 The press shall not obtain information, photographs or other material through misrepresentation or subterfuge, unless justified by the public interest.

It is my view that there was no breach of Principle 3. The complainant advertised on a website and a reporter responded to that advertisement.  I do not believe this was entrapment. Entrapment is generally considered to be an act of encouraging someone to commit a crime or to engage in an activity they would not usually undertake by tricking them.  There was no crime involved in the service offered by the complainant and the activity he undertook he did so voluntarily and indeed advertised that he would do so. The journalist simply responded to the advertisement.  I am persuaded by the defence put forward by the editor of the Sunday World that the answering of the advertisement and the subsequent reporting of the outcome of the meeting between the reporter and the complainant was in the public interest and was therefore justified. 

It is also my view that there was no breach of Principle 5 (Privacy).

5.2 Readers are entitled to have news and comment presented with respect for the privacy and sensibilities of individuals.  However, the right to privacy shall not prevent publication of matters of public record or in the public interest.

In the matters that have led to the complaint the publication of the advertisement was, quoting the newspaper, in “an adult section of a popular website”. The complainant by advertising his services engaged in a public action. His action severely curtailed his right to privacy in the matter. In its defence,  the newspaper defended its publication by referring to the requirement that people with the occupation of the complainant are subject to scrutiny in determining their suitability.  I believe the Sunday World was operating in the public interest by drawing its readers’ attention to the activities of the complainant.

16 February 2016

The complainant appealed the decision of the Press Ombudsman to the Press Council of Ireland. 

Click here to read the Decision of the Press Council of Ireland.

This decision was anonymised at the request of the complainant.