1554/2023 - Mr Hermann Kelly and Dundalk Democrat
The Press Ombudsman has decided to uphold a complaint made by Mr Hermann Kelly about an article published in the online edition of the Dundalk Democrat in March 2023.
The article was headlined “Irish Freedom Party anti-immigrant rally planned for Dundalk – but no one showed up”. Mr Kelly stated that the article breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) of the Press Council’s Code of Practice because, he said, the Irish Freedom Party did not arrange the rally. Nor, he said, did it advertise the event on any of its platforms.
He said party members had noticed that the event had been arranged, had discussed it on a party WhatsApp group and had decided not to go or to get involved. Mr Kelly is the President of the Irish Freedom Party. He said the person who proposed the rally (on Facebook) had nothing to do with the party. He said the article was “completely untrue”. He requested a public retraction of the article and an apology.
The publication said that in light of the party’s complaint and statement that it was not involved in the rally it would publish a response. The response it proposed to publish was in the form of an amended news report on the rally. It removed the reference in the opening line to the Irish Freedom Party and described the event as “an anti-immigrant rally”.
The proposed text stated that the publication had seen social media reports that the rally was arranged by a supporter of the Irish Freedom Party, that it had “received information (and have seen social media messages) that a supporter of the movement made references to a rally, the party did not refute or disown that announcement although they seem to have been aware of it in advance of the rally [sic].” The text went on to read that this was the basis for the original article that was published online. The text finished by saying that the Irish Freedom Party had since contacted the Dundalk Democrat to say that no rally had been arranged by the party “and that any social media to the contrary are false.”
Mr Kelly rejected the Dundalk Democrat’s proposed response.
The Press Ombudsman finds that the Dundalk Democrat has breached Principle 1 in all respects. The Principle firstly requires the press to strive for truth and accuracy. Secondly it requires any significant inaccuracy to be corrected promptly and with due prominence. Thirdly it requires, where appropriate, that a retraction, apology, clarification, explanation or response be published promptly and with due prominence.
By its own admission the publication based its report on unsubstantiated social media reports and rumours. There is no claim that any efforts were made to corroborate these reports or to ask the Irish Freedom Party if it was the organiser of the rally. There was no onus on the party to make any public statement about the proposed event and no inference should have been drawn from the fact that it did not.
On being informed by the Irish Freedom Party that it was not involved in the rally, it should have published a correction. It did not. After the matter was brought to the office of the Press Ombudsman it was open to the publication to offer to retract the article and apologise for its publication as requested by Mr Kelly. It did not do so.
The Preamble to the Code of Practice notes that the freedom of the press carries responsibilities, and that members of the press have a duty to maintain the highest professional and ethical standards. The Dundalk Democrat has fallen short of these standards with this article.
16 May 2023
The decision was appealed to the Press Council of Ireland.