554/2020 - A Woman and the Irish Daily Star
The Press Ombudsman has upheld a complaint that the Irish Daily Star breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) and Principle 5 (Privacy) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.
The Irish Daily Star earlier this year published an article on what was reported as the sale of a house by a woman whose son had been murdered. The article stated that the house had been the address given by the man in various court appearances. The article was accompanied by photographs of the exterior and interior of the house.
The woman wrote to the editor of the Irish Daily Star to complain about the publication of photographs of her home. She also stated that the article was inaccurate as her home was not up for sale and had never been sold. She further stated that her son had not lived in her home and had only used her address “for bail reasons”.
The editor of the Irish Daily Star defended the article stating that the information about the sale of the house had been taken from a property website that “could be easily viewed by anyone” which had listed the house as “sale agreed”. The editor further stated that the woman’s son had given his mother’s address when he was before the Central Criminal Court and a District Court on various charges. The editor concluded by stating that the photographs of the house would not be published again by the newspaper.
The woman in subsequent correspondence stated that her house had been offered for sale in 2015, but had been withdrawn from sale.
In response to this information the editor stated that the cache for the advertisement viewed at the time showed that it was up “as recently as August 2020” and that “it appears somewhat unusual that an ad for a property withdrawn from market in 2015 should remain live five years later”.
As the complaint could not be resolved by conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
Principle 1 (Accuracy)
Principle 1.2 states that when a significant inaccuracy … has been published, it shall be corrected promptly. The Irish Daily Star published a report that stated that a house had been sold. It said it had based this claim on a report on a property website. No evidence was presented that the newspaper had made any effort to check the accuracy of this information. When it was informed that this information was inaccurate the newspaper did not offer to correct the report. This is a clear breach of Principle 1.
Principle 5 (Privacy)
Principle 5.1 states the private and family life, home and correspondence of everyone must be respected. This is qualified in Principle 5.2 which states …the right to privacy should not prevent publication of matters of public record or in the public interest.
The publication of photographs of the woman’s house cannot be construed as in the public interest. The fact that the house had been used as an address by her son in court is not a convincing argument that publication of pictures of the house, including pictures of the inside, was in the public interest. The woman, who still lived in the house, was entitled to her privacy. There is no justification for breaching her privacy by publishing the photographs of her house. The fact that these photographs were available to anyone does not take any account of the context in which this information was published on the property website and cannot be used as a plausible defence of the newspaper’s decision to breach the woman’s privacy. Principle 5 was breached by the publication of the photographs.
2 December 2020