Mr Jim Hynes and the Irish Daily Star
The Press Ombudsman has decided to uphold a complaint by Mr Jim Hynes that two articles in the Sunday World about the murder of his partner, John Maguire, were in breach of Principle 5 (Privacy) of the Code of Practice for Newspapers and Magazines.
Mr Hynes complained that the articles, published on 29 September and 6 October 2013, were in breach of Principle 5 because the picture they had painted of his partner’s life-style was untrue and had caused great upset and offence to his family, and showed disregard for the facts and feelings of those involved.
The newspaper responded that it had not been its intention to cause any distress to Mr Maguire’s family and friends at a time when they were grieving, and apologised to them for any hurt felt. It cited a number of other contemporary reports about this crime, which Mr Hynes said had not given rise to breaches of the Code of Practice. It said that in addition to reading these reports, its reporter had contacted his own sources – including the Gardaí, social services and members of the public – in a bid to discover the perpetrator and the motive for the crime. It offered to correct and clarify any statements or facts which the complainant deemed it had published incorrectly: the complainant declined this offer.
The reports as published relied mainly, and as is frequently the case in crime reporting, on a number of unconfirmed reports, rumours or conjectures attributed to sources contacted by the newspaper in the course of its inquiries, as well as on previously published reports.
The publication of unconfirmed reports, rumours or conjectures, in crime reporting or otherwise, is not in itself a breach of the Code as long as they are not reported as if they were fact. In the view of the Press Ombudsman, however, this cannot reasonably be interpreted as overriding the significant obligation of publications, under Principles 5.2 and 5.3 of the Code, to present news and comment with respect for the privacy and sensibilities of individuals and, in situations of personal grief or shock, to take the feelings of grieving families into account.
The reports complained about implied that Mr Hynes’ partner may have been a promiscuous gay man who had been murdered by someone with whom he had had a casual relationship. The newspaper’s sources may well have believed this to be true, and the newspaper also evidently published the material in good faith. In the opinion of the Press Ombudsman, however, the publication of such material was a breach of the requirements of Principles 5.2 and 5.3 of the Code noted above, and its publication could not reasonably be held to be in the public interest.
The Press Ombudsman decided that the newspaper’s offer to correct and clarify any statements reported as if they were facts which the complainant deemed it had published incorrectly under either Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) or 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment) of the Code was sufficient action on its part to resolve these parts of the complaint.
Mr Hynes also complained under Principle 1 that other statements in the articles about his partner’s purported connections and relationships created a highly misleading and distorted report. Insofar as these references were statements accurately reported as having been made to the newspaper by its sources, they did not present a breach of Principle 1, and this aspect of the complaint is therefore not upheld. The decision that the accuracy of such reports did not present a breach of Principle 1, however, is not to imply or decide that the statements complained about were true or accurate, but solely that they were accurately attributed to the newspaper’s sources.
Mr Hynes also complained under Principle 2 that the newspaper reported comment, conjecture, rumour and unconfirmed reports as if they were fact. However, insofar as the statements complained about were attributed directly or indirectly to the newspaper’s sources, and were therefore not reported as if they were fact, a complaint that they did not distinguish adequately between fact and comment cannot be upheld under Principle 2.
Mr Hynes complained that the newspaper’s alleged breaches of Principles 1 and 2 were clear evidence that it had made little or no effort to strive at all times for fairness or honesty in publishing the articles about his partner’s murder, and consequently breached Principle 3 of the Code (Fairness and Honesty). However, in the light of the decisions under Principles 1 and 2 above, there was insufficient evidence to warrant a decision that the newspaper had not striven for fairness or honesty.
Mr Hynes complained under Principle 4 (Respect for Rights) that his partner’s good name had been damaged by the publication of unfounded allegations and conjectures, and that the newspaper had not taken reasonable care in checking the facts. There is insufficient evidence, however, that the material concerned had been published knowingly - as this Principle requires - based on malicious misrepresentations or unfounded accusations, or that, in making its inquiries, the newspaper had not taken reasonable care in checking facts before publication.
Mr Hynes also complained under Principle 5 about the publication of personal details about him, and about the publication of a photograph of his partner’s coffin being carried by family and friends. Although publication of this material was evidently, and particularly in the light of earlier coverage, unwelcome to the complainant and his partner’s family, its publication did not present a breach of Principle 5 of the Code.
Mr Hynes complained under Principle 8 (Prejudice) that the impression created by what he described as the newspaper’s unfavourable and distorted reporting had been such as to cause grave offence on the basis of sexual orientation While noting the strength of the complainant’s assertion that his partner’s life-style and sexuality were neither relevant to nor the cause of his death, the Press Ombudsman decided that the newspaper’s references to his partner’s sexual orientation in the context of its reports about this violent crime did not present a breach of Principle 8 of the Code .
18 February 2014
The Complainant appealed the decision of the Press Ombudsman to the Press Council of Ireland.