Mr Harry Browne and The Irish Times

Friday, 24th January 2014
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The Press Ombudsman has decided to uphold a complaint by Mr Harry Browne that an editorial addition to a letter from the complainant published in The Irish Times on 14 October 2013 was in breach of Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) of the Code of Practice for Newspapers and Magazines.

The Press Ombudsman had previously ruled that The Irish Times had made an offer of sufficient remedial action to resolve a complaint from Mr  Browne about a review of a book by him that appeared in that newspaper.  The action it had offered to take was to publish a letter from Mr Browne.    Although Mr Browne turned down this offer he did, subsequent to the Press Ombudsman’s ruling on the complaint, submit a letter for publication.  This letter was subsequently published in the newspaper, together with an editorial addition stating that the Ombudsman’s ruling was one “rejecting” Mr  Browne’s complaint. Mr Browne complained that this was inaccurate.

The newspaper contended that its description of the Press Ombudsman’s finding fairly represented in normal language Mr Browne’s failure either to have his substantial complaint or his complaint that he did not get a sufficient remedy endorsed by the Press Ombudsman. It maintained also that – even if the Press Ombudsman accepted the complainant’s contention -  it was exercising a latitude or discretion, which could not be seen as seriously misleading, and should be seen as a reasonable expression of freedom of the press.

While any decision by the Press Ombudsman that a complaint has not been upheld can quite reasonably be subsequently described as ‘rejecting’ the complaint concerned, this was not the decision made in this case. The decision made by the Press Ombudsman on Mr  Browne’s complaint was that the publication had made an offer of  sufficient remedial action to resolve it, even though that offer had not been accepted by the complainant. The newspaper’s description of this decision was therefore significantly factually inaccurate, in a context in which the concepts of latitude or discretion cannot reasonably be applied in extenuation, and the complaint is therefore upheld.


 24 January 2014