144/2019 - A Father and Son and the Irish Farmers Journal
The Press Ombudsman has not upheld a complaint that the Irish Farmers Journal breached Principle 5 (Privacy) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.
The Irish Farmers Journal published an article about a co-op’s share redemption scheme in which there was a reference to a co-op board member transferring shares to his son. Solicitors representing the father and son complained that their clients’ privacy had been breached by the publication of information about the share transfer. The solicitors stated that their clients had not consented to the publication of this information, which they described as their clients’ “personal data information pertaining to a share transaction”. They also complained that their clients had not been contacted prior to the publication of the information.
The editor of the Irish Farmers Journal defended the article and said that it was in the public interest to report on the transfer of shares by Board members. The editor said that the fact of the transfer by a Board Director of their shares would be noted by the Board and, he understood, would be published in the Annual Report. He also said that the shareholdings of all members of the co-op are available for inspection by any member on the co-op share register.
Solicitors representing the complainants expressed their disappointment at the editor’s reply and said “we do not accept the contentions contained therein”.
As the complaint could not be resolved by conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
I am not upholding this complaint as I believe it is in the public interest that when there is controversy around share redemption schemes in co-ops publication of information about shareholders and the transfer of shares by members of the boards of co-ops can be justified. Section 5.2 of the Code of Practice states that
… the right to privacy should not prevent publication of matters of public record or in the public interest.
Therefore, there is no breach of Principle 5 of the Code of Practice.
The complainants also argued that they should have been consulted prior to publication. In this case the accuracy of the information about the transfer of shares from father to son is not disputed and furthermore the publication of the information did not impact on the reputation of the father or the son. For these reasons there was no requirement on the newspaper to consult with the father and son prior to publication.
5 November 2019
Note: The complainants exercised their right to have the decision reported n a form which did not identify them.