1631/2023 - A Man and The Irish Times

By admin
Thursday, 29th June 2023
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The Press Ombudsman has decided not to uphold a complaint against The Irish Times by a man. The complainant wishes to be anonymous.  The article, published in April 2023, was headlined, “The doctor who questioned Ireland’s Covid policy and lost his job: ‘We destroyed young people’s lives for what?’” It comprised an interview of Dr Martin Feeley in which his voice predominates. The complainant said it breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy), Principle 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment) and Principle 8 (Prejudice).

The interviewee had been a senior doctor working for the HSE as the clinical director of a hospital group when he gave an interview to The Irish Times in 2020, criticizing as “draconian” the lockdown restrictions the Government had imposed due to Covid-19.  He also said people at low risk should be exposed to the virus.  He resigned soon afterwards.  This 2023 interview highlights the fact that Dr Feeley is “unrepentant”, and the view taken by The Irish Times that “the passage of time has cast Feeley’s original claims in a new light”.

A good deal of the complaint concerns what the article does not say in response to assertions made by the interviewee.  The complainant says the publication “fails to mention” many of the facts about Covid-19 in terms of death rates, illness, and the cohorts of the population who were at high risk of infection. He states that he is a young person who is in such a group. He says the newspaper does not contextualise Dr Feeley’s assertions and does not ask him questions that should have been asked.  

He questions why Dr Feeley was interviewed about Covid-19, given that he is not an expert.  He says the newspaper “blurred” truth and accuracy with comment on the question of whether the doctor was fired or had resigned. He says the doctor had spoken “with some prejudice” about “the lives of high-risk people like me are allowed to live”, and that The Irish Times had printed this without context or information.

The Irish Times denied any breach of the Code but said, upon first receiving the complaint, that the complainant could write a letter to the paper to be considered for publication. 

Citing the preamble to the Code of Practice on the freedom of the press, The Irish Times said there was a public interest in reporting Dr Feeley’s views and that the newspaper was committed to including “the reasonable representation of minority interests and divergent views”.  It said no single article could provide all the contexts readers would like and any attempt to insist on this would make it difficult to publish interviews with persons who held controversial views. 

It said the article was a truthful and accurate account of what Dr Feeley said in the course of the interview, that the interviewer had in fact challenged Dr Feeley on some of the points which were raised by the complainant, and that it was made clear the doctor had been forced to resign.  It said comment was not reported as fact and it was inevitable that an interview would reflect the views of the interviewee.  It said the article was not intended or likely “to cause grave offence or stir up hatred” against an individual or group in any of the categories outlined in Principle 8 of the Code of Practice.

The newspaper said it accepted that the complainant felt the article should have been written differently, and that while it did not accept the Code of Practice was breached, it stood over its offer to consider publishing a letter from him.  This was rejected by the complainant.


The Press Ombudsman accepts the newspaper’s view that there is a public interest in revisiting the doctor’s views, and that it has a right to give a platform to voices liable to be regarded by some readers as “wrong-headed”.  

On Principle 1, she agrees that the article challenges the doctor on some of his more extreme assertions. It also does provide at certain points contextual information which indicate that the publication is at least sceptical of some of Dr Feeley’s claims, including his own view of his expertise. At several points information is inserted as a counterpoint to what has been claimed. She also accepts that many of these matters are still being debated in the medical community. The facts are by no means settled.  The Press Ombudsman finds no breach of Principle 1 of the Code.

On Principle 2, she does not agree that there is a blurring of fact and comment on the matter of whether or not the doctor resigned voluntarily or was sacked.  It is made clear that whereas in 2020 he claimed he had done the former, he now freely admits he was forced to resign, and in another part of the interview reference is made to him having been sacked. She also finds that to read Dr Feeley’s comments as if they were being asserted as facts by the publication is mistaken.  This is an interview with a person who holds views which are obviously controversial.

On Principle 8, she finds no evidence that the publication intended the article to cause grave offence or to stir up hatred against any of those from the listed categories in Principle 8 of the Code. 

7 June 2023