3987/2018 - Leitrim Together for Yes and the Leitrim Observer
The Press Ombudsman has decided that the Leitrim Observer took action which was sufficient to resolve a complaint where it was found that the newspaper had breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) and Principle 2 (Distinguishing fact and Comment) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.
On 25 April 2018 the Leitrim Observer published an article under the heading “Pro Life advocates challenge leading obstetrician”. The article was an account of how a speaker at an event launching the Leitrim Together for Yes campaign was approached at the end of the meeting by a number of Pro Life supporters and confronted about some of the views he had expressed at the meeting. The article appeared on a news page and had all the appearances of a news report.
Ms Bernie Linnane on behalf of Leitrim Together for Yes wrote to the editor of the Leitrim Observer stating that the newspaper’s readers had been “duped” as the article was “distorted”. She stated that “the assertions laid out are mostly unverified accounts of private conversations that took place after the … launch”.
The editor responded to the complainant apologising for the article and stated that the newspaper had “got this badly wrong”. She explained that the Leitrim Observer had published an article on 18 April based on a press release by the Leitrim Together for Yes group. The newspaper was subsequently contacted by “local No campaigners” seeking a right of reply. The newspaper decided to publish an article by the No aside in its 25 April edition. The editor acknowledged that the article published on 25 April should have made it clear that it had been contributed by local campaigners against the repeal of the Eighth Amendment. She said that the newspaper would publish a prominent apology in its next edition.
On 2 May under the heading “Apology” the Leitrim Observer acknowledged that the article published on 25 April was a right-of-reply taken up by local campaigners on the No side and that the newspaper “should have stated (this) clearly”. The apology stated that the article on the referendum campaign published on 18 April was based “on a submission from the local Yes campaign” and that the article published on 25 April was based on a submission by the local No campaign. The apology acknowledged that this had not been made clear.
Ms Bernie Linnane made a complaint to the Office of the Press Ombudsman stating that the apology was “inadequate and unacceptable” because it was made to readers and not to the Leitrim Together for Yes group. She stated that the group should have been offered a right-of-reply to challenge inaccurate claims in the article published on 25 April.
The editor of the Leitrim Observer in a submission to the Office of the Press Ombudsman stated that the article published on 25 April had not been solicited by her newspaper, that it had been submitted by a group known as CoS Leitrim Cares. She stated that she had acknowledged to the complainants that the article had been misleading and had fallen “far short of (the newspaper’s) normal journalistic standards”. The editor said that she had responded quickly when she received the original complaint, had apologised and set the record straight.
Ms Linnane in response stated that the “Leitrim Observer has not acted in good faith” and wished the complaint to be referred to the Press Ombudsman. As the complaint could not be resolved by conciliation it was forwarded for a decision.
Principles 1 and 2.
It is evident that the Leitrim Observer by failing to make clear to its readers that the article published on 25 April had been submitted by one side in the referendum campaign breached Principle 1 of the Code of Practice. This states:
In reporting news and information, the press shall strive at all times for truth and accuracy.
As the article appeared to be the work of journalism, i.e. an objective report of a meeting, rather than something submitted by the No side the Leitrim Observer cannot have striven for truth and accuracy.
The article also breached Principle 2. This states:
Readers are entitled to expect that the contents of the press reflects the best judgment of editors and writers and has not been inappropriately influenced by undisclosed interests.
This requirement was breached as readers were misled into thinking the report had been the work of the journalist staff of the newspaper rather than the submission of one side campaigning in a referendum.
However, the apology published on 2 May made it clear to readers that what was published was not the work of the newspaper’s journalists and had fallen short of normal journalistic standards. Given the immediate acknowledgement by the editor that the newspaper had erred and the publication of an apology at the first opportunity the Press Ombudsman has decided that action was taken which was sufficient to resolve the breach of the Code.
23 August 2018