303/2020 - A Mother and the Irish Examiner

By admin
Friday, 29th May 2020
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The Press Ombudsman has not upheld a complaint that the Irish Examiner breached Principle 5 (Privacy), Principle 8 (Prejudice) and Principle 9 (Children) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.

The Irish Examiner published details of a court settlement where a mother on behalf of her child sued a maternity hospital for injuries to the child during birth. The newspaper reported that the settlement was made without admission of liability by the hospital. The report included the mother’s name and that of her child. It also gave information on the amount of the settlement.

The mother wrote to the editor of the Irish Examiner stating that the newspaper had published her “daughter’s name, age, place of birth, date of birth, address, mother’s maiden name, family name, settlement amount and disability”. She asked that the newspaper remove the article from its website.

The editor responded saying that although the newspaper was entitled to use all the information provided in court it would remove the date of birth of the child and the street name. The editor pointed out that its reporter “also chose to omit several sensitive details around (the family’s) personal circumstances” and that the “reporter used the documents which were before the court, the plenary summons they were entitled to see and what was said in court only”.

The mother responded saying that she was “attempting to protect” her daughter from a security, data and fraud perspective and “manage a vulnerable minor”.

As the complaint could not be resolved by conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.

It is widely recognised that newspapers are permitted to report everything said in open court unless there are restrictions imposed by the court or legislation. In this case, the newspaper said it exercised some discretion and withheld some details which came out in court. It also, on request from the mother and as a gesture of goodwill, made some changes to the online version of the report, although these were not enough for the mother. However, anyone who is a regular reader of newspaper coverage of court cases must be familiar with the practice of identifying plaintiffs and the publication of details of the claims and outcome of those claims. Given the fact that the newspaper reported on evidence given in open court, I can find no breach of Principles 5 and 9 of the Code of Practice in the article.

The mother also claimed that Principle 8 of the Code had been breached. This Principle requires the press not to publish material intended to or likely to cause grave offence or stir up hatred against an individual or a group on the basis of their race, religion, nationality, colour, ethnic origin, membership of the travelling community, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, illness or age. I could find nothing in the court report which breached Principle 8 of the Code. 

29 May 2020