381/2020 - Mr David Quinn and The Irish Times

By admin
Wednesday, 23rd September 2020
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The Press Council of Ireland upheld an appeal by Mr David Quinn against a decision of the Press Ombudsman on a complaint he made about an article published by The Irish Times on 11 March 2020.

The Press Ombudsman had decided that The Irish Times had offered to take sufficient action to resolve a complaint made by Mr Quinn under Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.  

On 11 March 2020 under the heading “Over 200 mumps cases reported in Ireland last week, HSE says” The Irish Times reported on an outbreak of mumps in Ireland. The report included a statement from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) that “The best protection against mumps is to be fully vaccinated with two doses of the MMR (Measles-Mumps-Rubella) vaccine”. The report also stated that “There had been a similar outbreak in the UK where almost half of the laboratory-confirmed cases reported last year were in unvaccinated people with the highest incidence rates seen amongst those born in the later 1990s and early 2000s who missed out on the MMR vaccine when they were younger”. It was further stated that “there is a similar profile in Ireland”

Mr Quinn wrote to The Irish Times stating that the article implied that almost half the cases of mumps in Ireland were in unvaccinated people. He stated that the latest statistic he had seen from the HPSC was that in 2018 only 8% of cases of mumps in Ireland occurred in unvaccinated people.

The Irish Times responded stating that all the statistics in the report were accurate and from health authority sources in Ireland. It referenced HPSC research which, it said, confirmed that whilst the majority of cases in the current outbreak of mumps have “unknown vaccination status” the most affected age groups were 15-24 years. It quoted from a separate HPSC researcher who said that many of those affected would have been part of the so-called “Wakefield cohort” whose parents decided not to get them vaccinated as children.  The newspaper’s response concluded with “Based, on all of the above it can be concluded that Ireland has a similar profile to the UK in terms of the mumps outbreak” and that there wasn’t a significant inaccuracy in the report.

Mr Quinn rejected the newspaper’s defence of the report stating that it was “self-evidently false as is borne out by the statistics published on the HPSC’s website …” and that the newspaper was “obviously determined to point the finger at the unvaccinated regardless of the evidence”.

The Irish Times responded and offered as “there are different schools of thought on the issue” that Mr Quinn submit a letter for publication.

Mr Quinn said that he “was not interested in having a letter published” and wanted a new article which “acknowledged your significant inaccuracy”.

He made a formal complaint to the Office of the Press Ombudsman on the basis of a breach of Principle 1 of the Code of Practice.

The editor of The Irish Times in a submission to the Office of the Press Ombudsman defended the article but stated “… in the interest of conciliation, I am prepared to delete from the article the comparison statement that “There is a similar profile in Ireland”.

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

Decision of the Press Ombudsman

I have concluded that the newspaper offered to take sufficient action to resolve this complaint by offering to publish a letter and to remove from the online report the sentence that is at the centre of the complaint. Principle 1 of the Code of Practice states:

Principle 1 − Truth and Accuracy

1.1 In reporting news and information, the press shall strive at all times for truth and accuracy.

1.2 When a significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distorted report or picture has been published, it shall be corrected promptly and with due prominence.

1.3 When appropriate, a retraction, apology, clarification, explanation or response shall be published promptly and with due prominence.

The Irish Times offered to delete the claim in the article that there was a similar profile in Ireland to the UK profile and to publish a letter in which the complainant could give his views on the matter under dispute. This offer was sufficient to conform to requirements found in Principle 1 of the Code.

On 4 September 2020 The Press Council upheld an appeal submitted by Mr Quinn on the grounds that the Press Ombudsman had erred in his application of Principle 1 of the Code of Practice.  Click here for the Press Council's decision.