1363/2022 - A Man and The Irish Times
The Press Ombudsman has not upheld a complaint that The Irish Times breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) and Principle 3 (Fairness and Honesty) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland).
On 9 August 2022 The Irish Times published an editorial under the headline The Irish Times view on diverting motorists to build cycle lanes. The editorial included references to road works in Dublin for the construction of a city centre cycle route. Construction required a ban on private cars from one access route to the city centre. The editorial concluded with the following paragraph.
More challenges for motorists lie ahead as policy options like congestion or city centre charges come on to the menu and more roads are closed off in whole or part. The transition will have its challenges, but the goal of a more liveable, climate-friendly city is worth fighting for.
A man wrote to the editor of The Irish Times stating that the headline and the article were misleading. He said that the bulk of the time and costs of the project related to the replacement of 6.2 kilometres of water mains and not to the provision of cycle lanes. He sought a clarification.
The Irish Times responded to the complainant stating that it would not be changing the headline or the article or issuing a clarification. The newspaper offered to consider the publication of a letter from the complainant in which he could outline his views.
The man made a formal complaint to the Office of the Press Ombudsman. He claimed that the editorial was “deliberately misleading” in its headline and its contents. He said that the development was “much more” than a cycle lane project, that the article made no mention of the upgrading of bus lanes and pedestrian walkways, or the planting of new trees or water infrastructure upgrades. He claimed that the article “omitted key information” and breached Principles 1 and 3 of the Code of Practice.
The Irish Times made a formal submission to the Office of the Press Ombudsman describing the man’s complaint as “perplexing” as the editorial called for “the improvement of facilities for cyclists, walkers and bus passengers”. The newspaper also disputed the complainant’s assertion that the bulk of the costs of the project had “little to do with cycle lanes”. The Irish Times appended to its submission a press release from Dublin City Council about the development which it said included several mentions of cycling infrastructure and only two words referring to watermains in “a press release of over 1,000 words”.
As the complaint could not be resolved by conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy)
I find that there was no breach of Principle 1 in the editorial. It is true that the editorial did not make any reference to the watermains part of the development, but the purpose of the editorial was to argue in favour of the introduction of new infrastructure to encourage cycling, walking and the use of public transport. In these circumstances it is my view that there was no need to refer to the watermains part of the project. The absence of any reference to the watermains part of the project did not breach truth and accuracy requirements found in Principle 1.
Principle 3 (Fairness and Honesty)
There was no breach of Principle 3. The complainant argued that the editorial omitted key information and this resulted in a breach of Principle 3. This Principle requires the press to strive at all times for fairness and honesty in the procuring and publishing of news and information. I can find no evidence in the editorial published on 9 August that this requirement was breached. It seems to me that the editorial was a fair and honest editorial view on a structural development which would result in better access to the city centre of Dublin for cyclists, pedestrians and public transport users, something that the complainant himself supports. The absence of reference to any water mains works was not due to a failure to strive for fairness and honesty, but rather a concentration on the subject of the editorial, improvement in travel facilities for those not using motor cars.
29 September 2022