1517/2023 - Mr Luke O’Connor and the Kilkenny People
The Press Ombudsman has decided not to uphold a complaint against the Kilkenny People by Mr Luke O’Connor. Mr O’Connor complained that an article published in February 2023 breached Principle 3 (Fair Procedures and Honesty) of the Press Council’s Code of Practice because of the “unfortunate conduct” of the newspaper’s journalist in her engagement with him, and also that he had been “misrepresented and quoted out of context”. The Kilkenny People denied any breach of the Code of Practice.
The article is a news report about a protest and a counter protest in Kilkenny on a Government plan to accommodate asylum seekers in a local hotel. It includes a photograph of people marching behind a banner that says “Kilkenny Says No”. The complainant was among those protesting against the plan. In the one sentence devoted to him he is quoted as saying he was against “illegal immigrants coming here”.
In his complaint to the newspaper, Mr O’Connor said that in advance of the protest he had noted that its reporter was taking a photograph “which would have suggested a lack of support for our cause” as the protest had not yet begun. He had confronted her and prevented her from taking the photograph. He said when she asked him for a quote he had “explained that we had a problem with the level of illegal immigration in this country”. He said the reporter had argued with him and when he responded she had “quickly shut down the conversation”. He said it was apparent that she thought it was her right as a member of the press “to look down her nose at ordinary people seeking what is best for their community”.
The newspaper responded that Mr O’Connor had baselessly drawn inferences about the journalist’s intentions in taking a particular photograph. It said the photograph of the protest which was published in the newspaper fairly and honestly depicted the attendance, and that the article provided an approximate attendance figure of around 50. It noted that Mr O’Connor had, in social media posts, given the same figure as his own estimate. It said by the complainant’s own account he had instigated a confrontation with the journalist and prevented her from taking a photograph.
The editor said the reporter had 20 years of experience and an exemplary record, that she had approached Mr O’Connor “in the interest of covering the event fairly and accurately” and that she had been “cordial and professional”. He said Mr O’Connor had been quoted correctly, and that his views were represented fairly and in context. The editor said the reporter had contacted him immediately after covering the event, and that she had told him that after the complainant became “hostile and aggressive” she had decided to remove herself from his company.
Mr O’Connor rejected the newspaper’s response and said he surmised that the use of the word “against” in front of the quote attributed to him was meant to show he was attacking immigrants rather than Government policy.
In relation to the complaint about the journalist’s behaviour, the Press Ombudsman considers that there was nothing to suggest a sinister motive behind the journalist’s attempt to take a photograph at the start of a public event. After an event, it will fall to the newspaper’s picture editor to select the most appropriate images for publication. The newspaper chose in this instance to publish a photograph by another photographer that shows the protest taking place. By his own account, the complainant “prevented” the journalist from taking a photograph, “confronting” her and questioning her about her intentions. She “did not deny” what she had been in the process of doing.
The journalist’s report to her editor that she had removed herself from Mr O’Connor’s company because of his adoption of a hostile and aggressive attitude towards her is consistent with the language he himself uses to describe their encounter. Her decision to distance herself from him is in keeping with professional good practice in such circumstances. In relation to the complainant’s claim about the reporter’s attitude, the report is balanced and there is no evidence to suggest that she had anything other than a professional attitude to doing her work.
Mr O’Connor states in correspondence that his case rested on his having been taken out of context at the event.
This is a relatively short report which includes a series of mostly brief quotations from people attending respectively the protest and the counter protest. These collectively give the reader a contextualised view of the range of views expressed on both sides.
In his complaint Mr O’Connor describes at some length what he said he had “explained” to the reporter. He says he was presented as being against “the people themselves” rather than against “the government policy of being soft on illegal immigration”. He says he is sure they are “good people”. He goes on to say that they “should not be allowed to enter our country illegally and masquerade as Asylum (sic) seekers and refugees”.
The Press Ombudsman does not accept Mr O’Connor’s interpretation of the words attributed to him by the newspaper or their framing. She takes the quote attributed to him to mean he was against what he considered to be the fact that illegal immigrants were coming to Kilkenny. In the context of the protest in which he is taking part, it will be understood that he shares the view that it was because of Government policy that these people were being enabled to come to Kilkenny. The words quoted and the way they are framed are consistent with what the complainant says he told the reporter, and it would be unrealistic for him to expect a longer quotation.
The Press Ombudsman finds no evidence of a breach of Principle 3 of the Code of Practice.
18 April 2023