1312/2022 - A Complainant and The Irish Times

By Gabrielle Collins
Monday, 25th July 2022
Filed under:

The Press Ombudsman has decided that The Irish Times did not breach Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy), Principle 3 (Fair Procedures and Honesty) and Principle 6 (Protection of Sources) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.

The Irish Times published an article on the voting intentions of French citizens living in Ireland in the second round of the French Presidential elections. One of the French citizens quoted in the article was the complainant. The article stated that he hadn’t voted for either of the two remaining candidates (the incumbent Emmanuel Macron and the challenger Marine Le Pen) in the first round. He was then quoted giving his assessment of the two candidates. He concluded by saying that he didn’t think Marine Le Pen would win. 

The complainant expressed his concern that “the comments to me do not reflect the overview I gave of the election, and actually were altered to imply I favoured one candidate over the other”. He said that he had also not given permission for his name to be used, that he thought the purpose of the article was “an overview” rather than a series of interviews. He asked that his name and a photograph of him be removed from the online version of the article.

The Irish Times responded saying that it “has a strict policy of not deleting articles from its archive and not amending published articles except to correct established factual errors”. The newspaper said that the  reporter was satisfied that the complainant was a willing interviewee and understood that he would be quoted in the article.

The complainant wrote to the editor saying that he was not satisfied with the response he received and that he believed the newspaper had breached Principle 1, Principle 3 and Principle 6 of the Code of Practice. He said there had been no agreement that his name would be mentioned, that the article had omitted  comments he had made about President Macron and that the article had suggested that he was “somewhat sympathetic towards Le Pen’s stance on immigration which was not something I said.”

The Irish Times in a submission to the Office of the Press Ombudsman said that the article had referred to the complainant’s views on President Macron when he was quoted “If you look at it objectively, both Macron and Le Pen have good ideas. The difference is Macron has shown his strengths and weaknesses but we haven’t seen Le Pen (in power) yet”. The editor said that the article had not portrayed him as a supporter of either of the two candidates.

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

Principle 1

This Principle requires the press to be accurate in what it reports. The complainant believes the article distorts what he said and that the article made him look like he was favouring a candidate over another, when he was not. Much of his basis for this belief is what was excluded from his published interview rather than what he was quoted as having said. Having read the article carefully several times I believe most readers would have understood the complainant’s position to be that he supported an unsuccessful in the first round of the elections and saw good and bad points in the two remaining candidates. This does not appear to me to be a distortion of the complainant’s views and therefore I find no breach of Principle 1.

Principle 3

This Principle requires the press not to obtain photographs through misrepresentation or subterfuge.

The complainant states that he did not understand that he would be quoted directly in the article and that his photograph would be used. His photograph had been taken for a different article he had penned for a sister publication of The Irish Times. It was not unreasonable for the reporter to assume that if he was agreeable to have his identity revealed and his photograph included in the sister publication that he would have any objections to his identity and photograph being published in the article on voting intentions. The lack of clarity in consent between the two articles is regrettable, but it is not possible to say that The Irish Times breached Principle 3 of the Code of Practice in the publication of the complainant’s name and photograph in the article on voting intentions.

Principle 6

This Principle requires the press to protect confidential sources of information. The complainant says that he provided information on the Presidential candidates on the understanding that he would not be identified. The newspaper disputes this understanding. The information the complainant shared with the journalist for the article on the French Presidential election candidates cannot be regarded as confidential information as understood by Principle 6. He was simply giving his opinion about the merits of two candidates. For this reason, I can find no breach of Principle 6.

6 July 2022