1533/2023 - Mr Raymond Butler and Independent.ie
The Press Ombudsman has decided not to uphold a complaint by Mr Raymond Butler against Independent.ie about an article headlined, ‘Panic buying of home-heating oil sends prices up sharply and leads to delivery delays’ which was published in December 2022.
The complainant said the article made “a strong claim” and failed to provide evidence it was true, thus breaching Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) of the Press Council’s Code of Practice. He argued that by so doing it also breached Principle 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment) of the Code because fact was not distinguished from comment or conjecture. He said Principle 3 (Fair Procedures and Honesty) of the Code was breached because the claim made in the article could lead to ‘social contagion’, thus leaving Independent.ie open to allegations it had ‘participated in a deliberate attempt on the part of home heating oil suppliers to deceive the public’ into buying oil at inflated prices.
Mr Butler said the article was ‘based solely on a few quotes from home heating oil reps and nothing more’ and that it failed to find a ‘disinterested’ source to support or question its claims. He said the article failed to show that ‘panic buying’ took place.
Independent.ie denied any breach of the Code of Practice. In response to the complainant’s claim that the article breached Principle 1.1 by failing to strive for truth and accuracy, it said the article was about a developing situation of public interest, and that its sources included the websites of oil suppliers and a price comparisons provider.
On the claim that Principle 2.2, which states that comment, conjecture and rumour shall not be reported as if they were fact, was breached, it said all sources were identified so that their views could be contextualised. It said industry sources were quoted because of their knowledge of the situation. It said that ‘far from triggering a rush of consumers to stock-pile fuel’ one such source had stated there was an adequate supply. Principle 2.3 addresses the right of readers to expect that press content is not subject to inappropriate influence by undisclosed interests. Independent.ie said the complainant had provided no basis for his claim that this was breached. On Principle 3.1, which requires the press to strive for fair procedures and honesty, Independent.ie said the complainant had provided no basis for his claim of a breach.
The complainant’s assertion that all the article’s sources are from within the home heating oil industry is simply incorrect. One of the main sources for the data on which the article is based is an independent price comparison website, a spokesperson for which is quoted extensively. The other main source to be quoted, who is from within the industry, is clearly identified as such. The Press Ombudsman finds no breach of Principle 1 of the Code.
The sources used in this report are appropriately qualified to address its subject. Each of them offers what appears to the Press Ombudsman to be a reasoned and informed analysis of the situation from their professional perspectives. The Press Ombudsman finds no breach of Principle 2.2 of the Code. The Press Ombudsman notes that the industry source asserts that there has been ‘panic buying’ but offers several assurances that this is unwarranted. There is no evidence that Independent.ie was motivated by a desire to get people to buy oil. The Press Ombudsman finds no breach of Principle 2.3 of the Code.
This article is about a matter of public interest, and it provides information and analysis liable to contribute to informed debate and enabling readers to form their own views. There is nothing to suggest that Independent.ie has employed anything other than fair procedures in producing it, and nothing to suggest anything that is not honest. The Press Ombudsman finds no breach of Principle 3.1 of the Code.
18 April 2023
Mr Butler appealed the decision to the Press Council of Ireland.