Deputy Sean Conlon and the Dundalk Democrat
The Press Ombudsman has decided to uphold a complaint by Deputy Sean Conlan.
On 26 May 2015 the Dundalk Democrat published an article about a person charged with theft at Carrickmacross District Court. Readers were informed that the man charged was the “future father-in-law” of Sean Conlan TD. The article was accompanied by a photograph of Deputy Conlan.
Deputy Conlan complained to the Press Ombudsman’s Office that the Dundalk Democrat had breached Principle 5 (Privacy) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.
Deputy Conlan claimed that the publication of his photograph and the information that the accused man was the father of his fiancée breached his privacy and was an attempt to incorrectly associate him personally with an individual who was being charged with a criminal offence. He believed the publication was a breach of his constitutional right to his good name and reputation as a TD and as a solicitor.
The editor of the Dundalk Democrat made a submission to the Press Ombudsman’s office in which he stated that the newspaper hadn’t published any details of the private life of Deputy Conlan. He went on to claim that the “… article was an old-fashioned news story concerning a matter of local importance and it is difficult to understand why a local newspaper such as the Dundalk Democrat should not be in a position to publish a local story of this nature”. He went on to state that the story had already been published in a national newspaper a month previously where the man charged was identified as the “father of a TD’s fiancée”. The editor also stated that the photograph used to accompany the article had been taken from the TD’s website.
As the complaint could not be conciliated it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
In making my decision I am conscious of the fact that public figures retain an entitlement to some measure of privacy, though not at the same level as members of the public who do not have any public profile. Deputy Conlan made available to the media the photograph of himself used to accompany the article. He sought attention in national and local newspapers in the same way as all elected representatives seeking to increase their public profiles. Therefore he could anticipate favourable and unfavourable media coverage about his activities as a public figure.
In the article published on 26 May the subject matter had nothing to do with Deputy Conlan’s public profile. He was in no way responsible for the behaviour of the man accused of theft. In these circumstances while knowledge of the relationship of the accused and Deputy Conlan may have been in the public domain it is difficult to see how it can be in the public interest for the newspaper to report so prominently in its headline and choice of photograph that the accused man’s daughter was engaged to an elected member of Dáil Éireann. The fact that the relationship had previously been reported in a national newspaper did not entitle the Dundalk Democrat to report on the relationship between the accused and the Deputy in such a prominent manner. Deputy Conlan’s relationship to the accused was featured prominently in the report’s headline and in a large photograph accompanying the report.
The newspaper did not offer a public interest argument in its defence of the report. One of the considerations the Press Ombudsman must take into account in making a decision on a complaint is whether or not publication of information is in the public interest. The justification for publishing private information of public figures requires that the information revealed (for example, relevant details of their private life and circumstances) relates to the validity of the public person’s conduct and the credibility of public statements and views expressed. Nothing published about Deputy Conlan on 26 May had anything to do with these considerations and therefore the complaint is upheld.
6 January 2016
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.