458/2020 - Mr Andrew Shannon and the Irish Sun
The Press Ombudsman has decided that sufficient action was offered to resolve a complaint made by Mr Andrew Shannon that the Irish Sun breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland. A claim that Principle 5 (Privacy) was breached was not upheld.
On 16 August 2020 the Irish Sun published an article under the headline “Killer’s ally: Evil cop killer … finds new ally in notorious art thief Andrew Shannon who supported him in court”. The subject matter of the article was a murder trial. The article claimed that the two men had met when the man charged with murder was serving a prison sentence. The article further claimed that Mr Shannon was in court to “offer his support” to the man charged with murder.
Mr Shannon wrote to the editor of the Irish Sun stating that he had attended the trial but was not there to support or give legal advice to the man who was on trial. He said that it was a “public trial and therefore any members of the public could attend the trial”. He said that he had not known the man on trial since 2011 as claimed in the article. He further objected to his photograph being published in the Irish Sun alongside the photograph of the man on trial.
As Mr Shannon did not receive a reply from the editor of the Irish Sun he made a formal complaint to the Office of the Press Ombudsman.
In a submission to the Office of the Press Ombudsman the editor of the Irish Sun acknowledged that there was a dispute between the newspaper’s account and Mr Shannon’s account. The editor in “order to resolve the matter in an amicable manner” proposed taking the article offline and providing Mr Shannon “with a right of reply by way of a telephone interview for publication”. If Mr Shannon declined the offer of an interview the editor offered to publish a clarification, and submitted a possible wording.
Mr Shannon in response declined the offer of an interview stating that he didn’t “have to justify why I attended”. He repeated that he had attended the trial “for educational purposes only” and that the newspaper’s publication of his photograph had caused him “harm and distress”. He did not respond to the offer of a publication of a clarification.
As the complaint could not be resolved by conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
Principle 1 of the Code of Practice requires the press to strive at all times for truth and accuracy. There is a disagreement as to fact between the newspaper’s account and the complainant’s account. The newspaper accepted this and as a means to resolve the matter offered to publish either an interview with the complainant or a clarification. In my view this offer was sufficient to resolve the complaint that Principle 1 had been breached.
Principle 5.1 obliges the press to respect the privacy of individuals. This right is qualified in Principle 5.2 where it is stated that the right to privacy should not prevent publication of matters of public record or in the public interest. Mr Shannon’s conviction is a matter of public record. His attendance at the trial is not disputed and in these circumstances by publishing Mr Shannon’s photograph the newspaper did not breach Principle 5 of the Code of Practice.
16 October 2020
Mr Shannon appealed the decision to the Press Council of Ireland.