1352/2022 - A Complainant and the New Ross Standard

By Gabrielle Collins
Wednesday, 28th September 2022
Filed under:

The Press Ombudsman has not upheld a complaint that the New Ross Standard breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy), Principle 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment), Principle 4 (Respect for Rights) and Principle 5 (Privacy) of the Code of Practice.

The New Ross Standard published an article on the death of a man. There was a follow up article on the same subject published a week later. The articles outlined how the emergency services had been called to a house where a man had died. The articles included comments attributed to unnamed sources, as well as comments from spokespersons for the ambulance and fire services. A photograph of the house with the name of the street where the house was located was published alongside the article published on the first occasion. The name of the deceased man and the exact address of the house where he died was published in the follow up article.

Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) and Principle 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment)
The partner of the deceased man wrote to the editor of the New Ross Standard on behalf of her family complaining that Principles 1 and 2 had been breached when the article quoted an unnamed “local property owner” expressing the view that there was a possibility that the deceased man’s life could have been saved if an intervention had happened at the time when he had reported his concerns about the house where the deceased man died to Wexford County Council. The complainant described this remark as “entirely baseless and incorrect speculation”

Though I accept that the publication of this remark was hurtful and deeply upsetting to the complainant and her family, it was published as a comment and not as a fact and therefore was not a breach of Principle 1 or Principle 2 of the Code.

Principle 4 (Respect for Rights)
Principle 4 requires the press to take reasonable care in checking facts before publication. The complainant stated that Principle 4 was breached in the first publication of a claim that
an official from the County Council called and was denied entry to the house. This comment was published, according the complainant despite being untrue, and despite the fact that the article later stated that an anonymous waste management complaint made in early 2021 was investigated by the Council and was resolved “at the time following engagement from the owner”.

I can find no evidence that the newspaper failed in its duties to take reasonable care in checking facts. The paper reported the allegation and reported the Council’s response. There was no breach of Principle 4.

Principle 5 (Privacy)
The complainant took issue with, what she described as, the insensitive and gratuitous aspects of the reporting of the death of her partner, and said that the manner of the reporting, while still in shock and grieving, greatly and unnecessarily added to the family’s distress She objected to the publication of the photograph and address of the house where the deceased man lived, and complained that Principle 5.3 had been breached. This states

Sympathy and discretion must be shown at all times in seeking information in situations of personal grief or shock. In publishing such information, the feelings of grieving families should be taken into account.

The editor expressed his regret at the pain and upset caused to the complainant and her family but defended the reporting of issues which were raised by the emergency services. He said that the article quoted the fire service and the ambulance service which are both public services, and said that it was in the public interest to report what they said. Principle 5.3 includes the following

…the right to privacy should not prevent publication of matters of public record or in the public interest.

Whilst fully accepting that the reporting of the emergency service’s comments caused the complainant and her family great upset and distress, I believe that the publication of the article was justified as in the public interest and therefore was not in breach of Principle 5.

The complainant also raised her concerns about the publication of the address of the house where her partner died. Newspapers publish the identity of individuals with full addresses frequently in reports in order to avoid the possibility that people or places irrelevant to reports may be inadvertently or incorrectly identified. Whilst I understand that this practice may cause distress it is necessary on occasions.

In addition, I find that the publication of a photograph of the exterior of the house was not a breach of the complainant’s family privacy rights. The image illustrated to readers of the newspaper the house where the deceased man had died. Its publication was simply part of reporting of events.

7 September 2022