Dr Sandrine Brissett and Trinity News
The Press Ombudsman has decided to uphold a complaint by Dr Sandrine Brisset that an article published in Trinity News on 16 October 2013 breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) of the Code of Practice for Newspapers and Magazines.
Dr Brisset complained that the article had inaccurately described her, in a headline on its front page, as a “former TCD lecturer,” when she is in fact employed in Trinity College Dublin as an Adjunct Assistant Professor.
The article reported on a number of matters centering on events surrounding the publication by Dr Brisset of a biography of Brendan Kennelly. The magazine, in its response to Dr Brisset’s complaints, offered to publish a correction of the headline, but stood over its reporting of the other matters complained about, as it said that the article was fair in its reporting.
Although the magazine offered to publish a correction of the headline, the Press Ombudsman’s view is that the seriousness, significance and prominence of this error, and its probable widespread distribution, required him to uphold the complaint.
The following complaints made under Principle 1, Principle 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment), Principle 3 (Fairness and Honesty) and Principle 5 (Privacy) about the article concerned were not upheld.
Dr Brisset complained under Principle 1 that the article contained many significant inaccuracies and misleading statements, and that a ‘simple word count’ demonstrated that the majority of the article had been devoted to voicing unfounded accusations against her. However, the Press Ombudsman cannot uphold a complaint on the basis of general assertions such as these.
She also complained that her complaints had been ignored by the magazine and that no retraction, apology, clarification or response had been published. As noted above, however, when contacted by the Office of the Press Ombudsman, the publication offered to correct one specified error and the complaint in this respect has already been the subject of the decision noted above.
Dr Brisset complained under Principle 2 about a number of statements in the article which she said were conjectures and rumours and unconfirmed reports reported as fact. However, the statements in question were appropriately attributed or clearly reported as unconfirmed reports.
She also complained about a reference in the article to a passage in her book, which she says was not contained in the book. On the evidence available to him from the text of the book, the Press Ombudsman concluded that the article’s reference accurately reflected the passage concerned.
Dr Brisset also complained under Principle 3 about the inclusion in the article of material based on what she said were personal documentations and legal correspondence, which she said the magazine was not authorised to use. However, there is no persuasive evidence of an agreement between the parties about any conditions attaching to the use of this material.
She also complained about a reference in the article to the publication of ‘sensitive information’, but this reference was attributed to named sources.
She also complained also about a reference in the article to what it said was the reason for the cancellation of a talk that she was to give on the Trinity campus, which she said was unfair, but there was insufficient evidence to support this complaint.
She also complained that she had not made two statements attributed to her in the article. The Press Ombudsman decided that the complainant’s assertion alone – contested by the publication - was insufficient evidence to support this complaint.
She also complained about the publication’s error in its description of her employment status in TCD. As noted above, however, when contacted by the Office of the Press Ombudsman, the publication offered to correct one specified error and the complaint in this respect has already been the subject of a decision under Principle 1 noted above
Dr Brisset also complained under Principle 5 of the Code that the article breached her privacy, because it published private information about her despite her objections, and that no sympathy or discretion was shown to her. There was insufficient evidence to support this complaint.
30 January 2014