1314/2022 - Senator Lynn Ruane and the Meath Chronicle
On 7 June 2022 the Press Ombudsman did not uphold a complaint that the Meath Chronicle breached Principle 3 (Fair Procedures and Honesty) and Principle 4 (Respect for Rights) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.
On 30 April 2022, the Meath Chronicle published a front-page report under the headline “Keogan: ‘I was the victim of bullying’”. The article quoted Senator Sharon Keogan as saying she had been bullied for her views at an Oireachtas Committee by another Senator, Lynn Ruane.
Senator Lynn Ruane wrote to the editor claiming that the newspaper had published “a false unproven claim” without any attempt to offer her a right-of-reply. She said that the Meath Chronicle headline displayed “a disturbing lack of understanding of the legal definition of bullying”. She sought a retraction and an apology.
The editor replied stating that the newspaper had spoken to Senator Keogan, who was based in Meath, following a “fiery” meeting of the Committee on International Surrogacy He said that Senator Keogan in an interview said that she was the victim of bullying and the Meath Chronicle had reported this as the opinion of the Senator. The editor said that it was in the public interest to report the matter.
Senator Ruane replied stating that the Meath Chronicle had breached Principle 3 (Fair Procedures and Honesty) and Principle 4 (Respect for Rights) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council. She said that Principle 3 had been breached as the newspaper had published an “extremely serious allegation” against her without any attempt to contact her to allow her to represent her views in the article. She said that Principle 4 had been breached as no attempt had been made to respect her rights to her good name and reputation by representing her views in the article or making any attempt to contact her for a response. She said that describing her as a bully, without affording her a right of reply or comment or representing her position, was to lower her in the eyes of reasonable members of society. Senator Ruane made a formal complaint to the Office of the Press Ombudsman.
In a submission to the Office of the Press Ombudsman the editor of the Meath Chronicle said that in the third and fourth paragraphs of the article under complaint the views of Senator Ruane about Senator Keogan as given at the Committee had been reported. He said that as the Committee had been suspended the newspaper obtained and published Senator Keogan’s views in response to Senator Ruane’s remarks. He continued “Our readers therefore had Senator Ruane’s views and Senator Keogan’s views in response, and it was for them (the readers) to decide whether they agreed with Senator Ruane or with Senator Keogan”.
As the complaint could not be resolved by conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
Principle 3.1 states
3.1 The press shall strive at all times for fair procedures and honesty in the procuring and publishing of news and information.
Politicians and other public figures can expect to engage in robust public debate and can expect the reporting in the media of opinions which can be challenging. The Meath Chronicle reported on an Oireachtas Committee meeting which included an exchange of widely differing views. Senator Keogan afterwards told the newspaper that she felt she was bullied for her views by Senator Ruane at the Committee. The newspaper reported the opinions of both Senators – what Senator Ruane said at the Committee meeting about Senator Keogan and what Senator Keogan said afterwards about Senator Ruane. This was a legitimate contribution by the newspaper to public debate and cannot be characterised as a failure of fair procedures and honesty. It would be unreasonable to expect newspapers to include responses on all occasions to the expression of hostile views about individual politicians. I can find no evidence of a breach of Principle 3.
This Principle states
Everyone has constitutional protection for his or her good name. The press shall not knowingly publish matter based on malicious misrepresentation or unfounded accusations, and must take reasonable care in checking facts before publication.
The Meath Chronicle published a report following heated exchanges at an Oireachtas Committee The comments complained about were not reported as fact, but as the opinions of Senator Keogan, and they were attributed to Senator Keogan. I can find no evidence of any malicious misrepresentation or unfounded accusations in the report. Equally I can find no evidence that reasonable care was not taken in checking facts before publication. For these reasons I find there was no breach of Principle 4.