1682/2023 - Safety Before LNG and Kerry's Eye
The Press Ombudsman has decided to uphold a complaint by the campaign group Safety Before LNG* about an article published by Kerry’s Eye.
Safety Before LNG complained that Kerry’s Eye breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) and Principle 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment) of the Press Council’s Code of Practice in an article published in the newspaper in June 2023. The newspaper denied breaching the Code.
The article is a news report about an application by Shannon LNG to set up a gas fired power plant in Co Kerry. It states that such plants are controversial because the gas routed to them “is often obtained using fracking technology…”. The article continues: “However, New Fortress Energy - the energy giant behind Shannon LNG – has claimed it would not trade in fracked gas via the North Kerry terminal and would obtain liquefied gas extracted through other means”.
Safety Before LNG stated that Principle 1 of the Code was breached because the article was “inaccurate, misleading, untruthful and distorted”. It said Principle 2 was breached because claims that were unconfirmed were reported as if they were fact.
It said the company had “never assured or claimed” in any of their official planning applications that imported gas would not be from fracking, and referred to an official planning application in which Shannon LNG stated that “it is neither necessary nor appropriate to include particulars of any one place where source gas might be extracted”. This was in response to concerns raised by another party about the fact that the use of fracked gas had not been strictly excluded and remained an option.
Kerry’s Eye rejected the complaint, stating that its report was “fair and balanced”. It referred to an article it published in 2021 which cited correspondence sent by a senior executive at New Fortress Energy to a local councillor, in which he said the proposed terminal “will not depend on fracked gas”. According to the newspaper, the letter writer cited the company’s advice to An Bord Pleanála that “most LNG in the world is not sourced from fracked gas” and said “the terminal is not dependent on fracked gas, and we are confident that we can source gas from non-fracked sources to meet energy demand and security of supply requirement for Ireland”.
Kerry’s Eye said the article published in June 2023 reported that the company “claims” it will not use fracked gas, and that the majority of readers would not presume that Kerry’s Eye was presenting this claim as fact. It said the media had a right and a duty to publish such claims in matters of public interest, that it would be dangerous to require it to desist from publishing such claims if required to prove their substance or veracity, and that a publication was not required to limit its reporting of claims to those included in official documents.
Kerry’s Eye offered to publish a clarification in which it would refer to the correspondence between the company executive and the councillor as the source for its assertion that the company had claimed it would not use fracked gas. The clarification would conclude “we have been asked by campaign group Safety Before LNG to point out that the company has never assured in any of their official planning applications that the imported gas will not be from fracking”.
Safety Before LNG rejected the clarification insisting the company had never stated “not even in its letter to the councillor” that it would not trade in fracked gas.
The Press Ombudsman finds that Kerry’s Eye has provided no evidence to support its published assertion that New Fortress Energy has claimed it would not trade in fracked gas via the proposed plant in Kerry.
In rejecting the complaint from Safety Before LNG, the publication relies on a letter sent by a company executive to a local councillor, about which it reported in 2021. However, the Press Ombudsman finds that the publication misses the point of the complaint. This is not about whether or not the newspaper or its readers believe what the company claims. It is about the newspaper reporting that a claim was made which was not made. The newspaper interprets what was written in the letter as amounting to a claim, but this is not supported by the facts.
The letter from the executive does not claim the company would not trade in fracked gas. The letter writer chooses language that seeks to convey that the use of such gas would be most unlikely, but he very definitely does not rule it out. In keeping with the language used in the planning documents submitted by the company, it is left open as a possibility. The Press Ombudsman finds that Principle 1 of the Code of Practice was breached. By reporting its own conjecture that what the company has said amounts to a claim that it would not trade in fracked gas, as though this were fact, the publication has also breached Principle 2 of the Code.
The clarification offered is founded on the same misunderstanding of the complaint and does not remedy it.
*Liquid Natural Gas
1 September 2023