1232/2022 - Mr Declan Leydon and The Irish Times
On 11 May 2022 the Press Ombudsman decided not to uphold a complaint that The Irish Times breached Principle 4 (Respect for Rights) and Principle 8 (Prejudice) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.
On 10 January 2022, The Irish Times published an editorial on Covid-19 on the advisability of vaccination. The editorial concluded with the opinion “While there may be no persuading conspiracy theorists, their lives are already tightly circumscribed by existing rules – and there may be ways to restrict their access to services further. But making the vaccines mandatory in Ireland would raise real enforcement challenges while likely producing only marginal increases in the overall vaccination rate, which is already one of the highest in the world.”.
Mr Declan Leydon made a complaint to the Office of the Press Ombudsman claiming the Code of Practice had been breached as the editorial “shows no respect for the rights of people not to take a vaccine and then suggests that there may be ways to exclude this group from society, thereby creating an underclass”.
The editor of The Irish Times in a submission to the Office of the Press Ombudsman stated that Mr Leydon “misrepresents the editorial to a significant degree”. The editor said that the “editorial did not propose that unvaccinated people should be excluded from society. Nor does it advocate the creation of an unvaccinated ‘underclass’”. The editor offered to publish a letter from Mr Leydon which would allow him to take issue with the newspaper’s editorial stance.
As the complaint could not be resolved by conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
Editorials are the quintessential place in a newspaper where readers expect to find the opinions and views of editors. The editorial published on 10 January contained the views of the editor on society’s response to those who choose not to be vaccinated. It did not contain malicious misrepresentation or unfounded accusations. It was an editorial which did not undermine the reputation of those who choose not to be vaccinated. It pointed out the consequences to society of the presence of those who were, for whatever reason, unvaccinated. Essentially the complainant’s assertion of a breach of the Code of Practice was based on his disagreement with the views expressed in the editorial. This is not a sufficient reason to uphold a complaint that Principle 4 had been breached. There was no breach of Principle 4.
This Principle requires the press not to publish anything which is intended or likely to cause grave offence or stir up hatred against an individual or group on the basis of (defined categories). I can find nothing in the editorial which, in my view, causes grave offence or stirs up hatred. The complainant’s belief that the editorial has caused him grave offence is not sufficient grounds to uphold his complaint. It is recognised that the expression of views in editorials and opinion pieces may on occasion cause some offence. This is simply a side effect of public debate and discourse. The offer by the editor to the complainant to submit a letter for publication was a proposal to extend the public debate on the issue of vaccination rates. There was no breach of Principle 8.
Mr Leydon appealed the decision to the Press Council of Ireland and the Press Council rejected the appeal.