New Press Ombudsman Announced

Wednesday, 1st August 2007
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Prof. John Horgan confirmed as Ireland’s first Press Ombudsman
The newly-established Press Council of Ireland has announced that Professor John Horgan, a prominent author and academic whose background is in journalism and politics, has been appointed as Ireland’s inaugural Press Ombudsman.

The announcement was made by the Chairman of the Press Council, Professor Thomas Mitchell, who said that Professor Horgan’s appointment marked “the beginning of a new era for Irish media and hopefully a very positive new relationship between the press and the public.
“The appointment of a Press Ombudsman means that Ireland finally has a complaints mechanism that is free, easy to use, totally independent and available to every citizen,” said Professor Mitchell. “Anyone who feels aggrieved by a newspaper article or photograph can avail of this mechanism without having to risk spending a fortune by going to court. This is an essential service in any democratic society.”

Office of Press Ombudsman “fully operational on 2nd January”

Professor Horgan will take up his new position immediately and it is hoped that the Office of the Press Ombudsman will become fully operational – receiving and investigating complaints from members of the public – on 2nd January .

Professor Horgan himself said he was honoured to have been selected as Ireland’s first Press Ombudsman. “My appointment demonstrates the industry’s commitment to providing an independent, effective and responsive structure for handling complaints against newspapers by members of the public,” he said. “The Press Council and Ombudsman will also defend sound journalistic principles and the role of the print media in today’s society. At a time when media generally are becoming more fragmented, the core values of the traditional print media – accuracy, fairness, timeliness and authenticity – are more important than ever,” he said. “The Ombudsman’s office, together with the Press Council itself, will therefore play a vital role in maintaining these values as a service to readers, to newspapers themselves, and to the general public. I am very excited by the challenges that lie ahead, and really looking forward to getting started in my new role,” Professor Horgan added.

Comprehensive appointment process

Applications for the position of Press Ombudsman were first considered by an independent Appointments Committee, before a final decision was made by the Press Council. The Appointments Committee consists of Dr Miriam Hederman-O’Brien, a former Chairman of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, Dr Maurice Manning, President of the Irish Human Rights Commission, Kevin Murphy, former Ombudsman and Information Commissioner, and is chaired by Professor Thomas Mitchell.

The independent Appointments Committee was also responsible for selecting the 13 members of the Press Council, who were announced in July and will work closely with the Office of the Press Ombudsman. “The position of Press Ombudsman was publicly advertised and a shortlist was drawn up by the Appointments Committee, then interviews were conducted by the Press Council and the successful candidate was chosen on that basis,” said Professor Mitchell. “As with all other aspects of the establishment of the Press Council, the selection process was extremely comprehensive and wholly independent – that can only enhance the credibility of the office.”

Operating to a new Code of Practice

The key function of the new Press Ombudsman will be to investigate and adjudicate complaints made by members of the public against newspapers and magazines. A new Code of Practice has been agreed by the press industry, and this code will be the framework against which all complaints are considered.
“The new code is designed not only to raise standards of journalism but also to highlight the role of the media in today’s society and protect the freedom of the press,” said Professor Mitchell. “It has the support of all the print media organizations and the National Union of Journalists, and it draws on international best practice. “It has taken a long time and a huge amount of work and cooperation to get where we are today,” said Professor Mitchell. “We now have in place an Office of the Press Ombudsman and an independent Press Council of Ireland, and that is something to be proud of. This is still only the beginning of the journey, but the real work can now begin.”

Role of the Press Ombudsman

The Press Ombudsman is the first point of contact for members of the public who wish to make a complaint against a newspaper or magazine. Complaints are sent to the Press Ombudsman by letter or email; he decides whether they are valid and then seeks to resolve them to the satisfaction of those involved. The Press Ombudsman will deal with the majority of complaints in this way. However he also has the option of referring difficult cases, or complaints that have not been satisfactorily resolved, to the Press Council.

Prof. John Horgan: biography

Professor Horgan, who started his journalistic career on the Evening Press in 1962 and subsequently worked as a staff journalist on the Catholic Herald and the Irish Times, has been a frequent contributor to a wide range of print and electronic media in Ireland and abroad. He became a member of Seanad Eireann in 1969 and subsequently served in Dail Eireann and in the European Parliament. He joined the staff of Dublin City University (then the National Institute of Higher Education) in 1983 and was appointed Profesor of Journalism at DCU in 1999. He has been a member of the Interim Radio Commission, of the Commission on the Newspaper Industry, and of the Forum on Broadcasting. He is the author of a number of books on Irish media, and of a number of political biographies.