875/2021 - A Man and the Irish Independent **

By Gabrielle Collins
Monday, 13th September 2021
Filed under:

** The complainant originally requested anonymity in the drafting of the Press Ombudsman’s decision.  On completion of the complaints process, including consideration of an appeal by the editor, the complainant consented to his name being associated with the decision.  The complainant was Mr Brian Lohan.

On the 6 July 2021, the Press Ombudsman upheld a complaint that the Irish Independent breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.

The Irish Independent published in its sports section an article about how, among other things, Covid-19 restrictions had led to a dispute about what had happened at a sports ground before a training session was due to start. Other issues about coaching and related matters were also raised in the article. The complainant was named repeatedly in the article.  Many of the references to the complainant were critical in tone.

The complainant, through his solicitors, wrote to the Irish Independent pointing out what it said were several inaccuracies in the report none of which, the solicitors said, were checked with their client prior to publication The complainant sought a published apology and an agreed clarification. The editor responded by saying that there were “different views of a number of matters referred to in the article”. The editor offered to publish an interview with the complainant which would allow him to address the issues he complained about in the article. Solicitors representing the complainant responded by saying their client did not wish to have a “piece written about himself”. The editor responded to this by offering to publish a letter from the complainant as an alternative, in which he could highlight his issues with the article. This offer was not accepted by the complainant and a formal complaint was made to the Office of the Press Ombudsman that Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) of the Code of Practice had been breached by the Irish Independent.

In their formal submission to the Press Ombudsman the complainant’s solicitors said that “the article goes far beyond what can be deemed as fair commentary”. They described the article as “inaccurate and untruthful”. They went on to state that the newspaper “never sought to seek verification or comment” from their client before it went to press.

The editor in his submission to the Press Ombudsman defended the article as published.  He said that the complainant had not established a single clear-cut example of a factual inaccuracy that requires correction. 

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

Principle 1.1 states

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

Part of the complaint related to what happened at a sports ground, and other parts related to differences between officials.   I have insufficient evidence available to me as to which version of events is accurate. Sports commentary is frequently presented in a robust fashion in columns. There is a degree of licence for commentators to be passionate or even partisan in their interpretation of events. However, all commentary must observe the requirement found in Principle 1 to strive at all times for truth and accuracy. In this instance the column included some very critical assertions against the complainant.  It is advisable journalistic practice that when something that is planned to be published that could be damaging or could impact on the reputation of an individual an opportunity to respond is offered. It is true that in this instance a right-of-reply was offered by the editor, and the publication of a letter, but not until after the column had been published. To conform to requirements found in Principle 1 the newspaper should have contacted the complainant prior to publication to give him an opportunity to respond to the critical comments it proposed to publish and to allow the complainant give his perspective on the issues raised.  For these reasons I have decided that Principle 1 was breached.

The decision of the Press Council can be viewed here