Mr John Gibbons and the Westmeath Independent

By admin
Friday, 31st May 2024
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The Press Ombudsman has decided that an offer made by the Westmeath Independent to Mr John Gibbons was sufficient to resolve a complaint he made under Principle 1 of the Code of Practice.  She did not uphold other parts of his complaint.  

The article is a report on appeals against a planning decision made by Westmeath County Council.  It refers to a range of submissions made in opposition to a proposed construction scheme.  Mr Gibbons’ complaint is about a paragraph which begins:  “ ‘No proper access road’ is another gripe articulated in the appeal…” .

Mr Gibbons complained that the article breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy), Principle 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment) and Principle 8 (Prejudice) of the Press Council’s Code of Practice.    He said the newspaper had described his submissions to An Bord Pleanála as a “gripe”.  He said he had made legitimate submissions, and that the public was invited to do so “based on solid reasons and grounds”.  He said he had been “called out in a local newspaper as griping about something”.  He said the editor’s response when he complained added further insult. 

The publication responded to Mr Gibbons’ initial letter of complaint by stating that there had been no intention to bring him or his planning appeal into any disrepute.  It said it had given a substantial report of this and had used the word gripe as a noun and as “another word for complaint”. It cited a range of dictionary definitions of the word.  It said it respected the right of all to participate in the public planning process.

The publication offered to publish a statement in which it would refer to having reported on Mr Gibbons’ appeal.  It said it would quote what it had said about “another gripe” and would then state: “we are happy to confirm that we used the word ‘gripe’ simply as another word for complaint and no other meaning should be taken from it”.

Mr Gibbons rejected this offer stating that he had made a submission and not a complaint or gripe.  The publication again offered to publish its clarification, adding that it was willing to change the wording, dropping the word complaint and referring instead to “one of the points in Mr Gibbons’ submission”.  Mr Gibbons rejected this offer.


The Press Ombudsman considers that the use by the publication of the word “gripe” in the context of a planning appeal was not appropriate as the word has pejorative connotations. However, she finds that the publication’s offer of a clarification, whether using the originally proposed wording or a revised wording based on Mr Gibbons’ rejection of the original offer, was sufficient to resolve the matter.

She finds that no evidence is presented of a breach of Principle 2 or of Principle 8 of the Code.

14 May 2024