1068/2021 - Mr Peter Reynolds and The Irish Times

By Gabrielle Collins
Wednesday, 5th January 2022
Filed under:

The Press Ombudsman has not upheld a complaint by Mr Peter Reynolds that The Irish Times breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy), Principle 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment) and Principle 9 (Children) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.

On 29 September 2021 The Irish Times published an article under the heading “First legal medicinal cannabis product in Ireland lacks evidence base, specialist warns”. The article reported that a consultant paediatric neurologist  speaking to an Oireachtas health committee said he would not prescribe  the first licensed cannabis based product as part of the Medical Cannabis Access Programme (MCAP) “due to the absence of a scientific evidence base for its efficacy”. Also included in the report were comments from a T.D. who had campaigned to legalise medicinal cannabis that it was strange that doctors did not want to prescribe the first  MCAP product.

Mr Peter Reynolds complained to the editor of The Irish Times about the article. He said that he accepted the account published on 29 September was an accurate report of what had been said by the consultant at the Oireachtas committee. However, he said that what the consultant had said at the Oireachtas committee was “inaccurate and misleading”, a breach of Principle 1 of the Code of Practice. He complained that the article was also a breach of Principle 2 as the comments of the consultant were reported as fact. The article was also, according to Mr Reynolds, a breach of Principle 9 as the consultant’s comments related directly to the treatment of children and Principle 9 states that the press must take particular care in presenting information about a child. Mr Reynolds concluded by stating that he had sent The Irish Times a letter for publication which provided “irrefutable evidence” that the consultant’s words were inaccurate and misleading and therefore the newspaper should have published a retraction, apology, clarification, explanation or response promptly and with due prominence.  

The Irish Times stood over the article describing it as a “carefully reported, accurate and balanced account of what was said at an Oireachtas committee”. The newspaper noted that “other perspectives on this issue” had been included in the report.

As Mr Reynolds was not satisfied with the response of the newspaper, he made a complaint to the Office of the Press Ombudsman.

In a submission to the Office of the Press Ombudsman the editor of The Irish Times stated, in dealing with the claim that Principle 1 had been breached, that irrespective of any proof provided by the complainant that what the consultant had been reported as saying  was inaccurate, the account published in the newspaper was an accurate account of what had been stated at an Oireachtas committee and that   to require a newspaper “correct …every statement by a speaker at a committee that a reader feels is wrong” would impose an untenable burden on publications. Regarding Principle 2 the editor said that there was “no merit to the complaint” as the headline makes clear that the warning is from a specialist and the sub-headline specified that it was the consultant who questioned the evidence that led to the licensing of the product. In regard to the claim that Principle 9 had been breached the editor stated the complainant invoked Principle 9 without any basis for doing so.

As the complaint could not be resolved by conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.

In making this decision the Press Ombudsman is mindful that his function is to determine if anything published by a member publication has breached one or more of the Principles of the Code of Practice. It is not the Ombudsman’s function to determine the efficacy of medicinal products.

Principle 1

Principle 1.1 requires the press to strive at all times for truth and accuracy. Principle 1.2 states when a significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distorted report … has been published it shall be corrected promptly and with due prominence.

The newspaper published an accurate account of what was said at an Oireachtas committee by an expert witness. This was acknowledged by the complainant. It was therefore an accurate report and did not breach the requirement found in Principle 1.1. Requirements found in Principle 1.2 cannot have been breached if the report of the Oireachtas committee was reported accurately. Mr Reynolds holds different views on cannabis-based products to the consultant. This is not a matter the editor needs to be concerned about as the report in the newspaper was accurate.

Principle 2

Principle 2.2 states that comment, conjecture, rumour and unconfirmed reports shall not be reported as if they are fact. The views expressed in the article were clearly attributed to the consultant and cannot be construed as comment, conjecture, rumour or unconfirmed reports. They were the views of an expert witness at an Oireachtas committee and were reported as such by the newspaper. The editor was not obliged to consider the “evidence” submitted by Mr Reynolds which he claimed refuted the consultant’s views.

Principle 9

The consultant quoted in the article is a paediatric neurologist. His comments about the treatment of children with epilepsy and the appropriateness of particular medicines in their  treatment was reported accurately by the newspaper and there is no evidence that the newspaper failed to take particular care in … presenting information … about a child as required in Principle 9. Mr Reynolds disagrees with what the consultant said, but this is not a position relevant to the consideration of a possible breach of Principle 9 by the newspaper.

13 December 2021