404/2020 - A Man and the Irish Examiner
The Press Ombudsman has upheld a complaint that the Irish Examiner 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 1 June 2020 the Irish Examiner published an article reporting on a meeting of Kerry County Council which had taken place on 29 May. The article included the claim “… Kerry County Council backed a proposal put forward by the Mayor of Tralee Jim Finucane (FG) that the council fully endorses and supports the Shannon LNG project’. Sinn Féin councillor Robert Beasley seconded the emergency motion which was carried unanimously.”
A member of the public opposed to the development of the project (the complainant) wrote to the editor of the Irish Examiner stating the article was inaccurate because there was no emergency motion at the meeting in question and therefore there could not have been any unanimous passing of support from the Council for a motion that never took place. He asked that the article be corrected and retracted.
As the editor did not correct or retract the article the complainant made a formal complaint to the Office of the Press Ombudsman claiming that Principle 1 and Principle 2 of the Code of Practice had been breached. The complainant stated that the approved edited minutes of the County Council meeting on 29 May stated under Any Other Business that “Cllr. Jim Finucane proposed that the future of the Shannon LNG project should not be part of any political negotiations as a new application will come before An Bord Pleanála in September. Cllr. Robert Beasley seconded this proposal.” He said that this proved that the statements about which he complained were false and misleading.
The editor responded by saying that a motion had been raised under Any Other Business and that this was described to the reporter at the time as an emergency motion. The editor said “The motion was proposed, seconded and there were no dissenting voices and it was reported as being carried unanimously. While the members in the room did not vote in favour of the motion, it is common parlance when a motion is carried and there are no dissenting voices that something be described as “unanimous”.” The editor noted that the newspaper had not received any complaint from any sitting councillor about the newspaper’s report of the matter. Whilst defending what had been published the editor proposed putting the following clarification in the original copy online.
The use of the term “emergency motion” and that motion being carried “unanimously” has been questioned by a reader with close connections to the proposed Shannon LNG project. The motion was proposed by the mayor of Tralee, Jim Finucane, under “any other business”, seconded by Cllr. Robert Beasley and carried. There were a number of councillors who weren’t present at the meeting. We are happy to make that clear.”
The complainant said that the editor’s suggestion for a resolution of his complaint was not addressing the core issues of his complaint.
As the complaint could not be resolved by conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
Press Ombudsman’s Decision
The editor acknowledged that the journalist had not been in the chamber at the time the matter occurred and had relied on information given to her after the meeting. This information was published in good faith. The practice of reporters not being present in council chambers and relying on information being provided by councillors leads to an increased possibility of council matters being inaccurately reported. The editor’s proposed clarification was in my view not sufficient to address the inaccuracy published in the article
The complainant also claimed that Principle 2 had been breached. Principle 2 requires that “unconfirmed reports shall not be reported as if they are fact”. In this instance the information supplied to the reporter by the councillor was reported as fact rather than as the recollection of the councillor as to what had happened during Any Other Business at the end of the council meeting. Therefore Principle 2 was also breached.
Note: The complainant requested that the decision be reported in a manner which does not identify him.
16 September 2020