OMB 1909 - Dr William Ralph and the Irish Examiner

By admin
Thursday, 30th May 2024
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The Press Ombudsman has decided not to uphold a complaint by Dr William Ralph about the Irish Examiner.

Dr Ralph complained that an article published in the Irish Examiner in January 2024 breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy), Principle 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment) and Principle 3 (Fair Procedures and Honesty) of the Code of Practice.

The article is a news analysis piece by the publication’s Health Correspondent based on the findings of what it describes as “a study by the OECD” * and as a “Health Working Paper” which deals with “excess deaths in Ireland during the pandemic”.  The article has a questions and answers structure.  While primarily focusing on the OECD material, the article also refers to other sources including Irish academic research and the views of the health regulator.

The complainant asserts that while the article “repeatedly alleges” that the OECD wrote a report showing data from Ireland, the OECD “wrote no such report”.  Dr Ralph notes that the document to which the newspaper refers states that OECD working papers “should not be reported as representing the official views of the OECD”. He claims the newspaper presents “misrepresented findings” and that it makes no attempt to clarify the source of the figures cited.  The complainant says that he has conversed with CSO statisticians who advised him that “nobody consulted them” on Ireland’s data.

In response, the Irish Examiner asserts that its article is a thoroughly researched and robust piece of health journalism which draws on multiple sources and deals with a matter of vital public interest. It says it does not present “views” from the OECD document, “only facts and data”. It notes that the working paper is described by its authors as part of a series “designed to make available to a wider readership … studies prepared for use within the OECD”.  The newspaper notes that its article quotes analysis of the data in the paper by the Department of Health.


The Press Ombudsman notes the instruction given by the OECD in the introduction to its paper and cited by the complainant that “OECD Working Papers should not be reported as representing the official views of the OECD”.   However, the Press Ombudsman also notes the statement - which is also included in the paper and is cited by the newspaper  - that the Working Paper is part of “a series designed to make available to a wider readership … studies prepared for use within the OECD”.   The Press Ombudsman finds that the publication has been clear in the status of the document about which it is reporting.

The Press Ombudsman finds that the newspaper makes use of multiple authoritative sources to place the OECD paper in context.  It quotes the Irish Patients’ Association calling for the OECD “to further explain its calculations”.  

The Press Ombudsman has insufficient information to consider the complainant’s reference to his conversations with CSO statisticians, which remain anecdotal.  

The Press Ombudsman finds the newspaper has strived for truth and accuracy as required by the Code of Practice.  She finds no breach of Principle 1.

The Press Ombudsman finds that this article tackles the complex issue of how to analyse data to estimate the number of deaths caused by the Covid pandemic.  It takes a questioning approach and makes use of multiple sources.  It compares different approaches.  When citing opinions, such as those provided by the Department of Health, these are clearly attributed and are not stated as fact.  The Press Ombudsman finds no breach of Principle 2.

The Press Ombudsman is unable to identify any specific claim made by the complainant as to how he considers Principle 3 to have been breached, and the Press Ombudsman can find no evidence that Principle 3 was breached. 

*Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development

2 May 2024