375/2020 - A Woman and The Southern Star
The Press Ombudsman has not upheld a complaint made by a woman that The Southern Star breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy), Principle 3 (Fair Procedures and Honesty) and Principle 7 (Court Reporting) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.
The Southern Star published a report of a court case in which the complainant faced a number of charges. The newspaper reported that the woman was ordered to pay a sum of money to the court charity and had her charges dismissed under the Probation Act.
The woman complained that there were a number of inaccuracies in the court report and called on the newspaper to apologise for their actions. She said the title of the article was inaccurate, that it was inaccurate to say that she had been arrested, that it was inaccurate to say that she had been charged with careless driving, that it was inaccurate to say that she had been charged with threatening and abusive behaviour and that it was inaccurate to say that she had refused to make a statement. She also stated that there had been no reporter in court when her case was heard and therefore the report was based on hearsay.
In his response to the complaint the editor of The Southern Star acknowledged that the complainant had not been arrested and offered to publish a clarification in the newspaper to that effect. He defended the title of the article and stated that the summonses showed that the complainant was charged with being "Threatening and Abusive in a Public Place" and that she had been charged with careless driving without due care and attention. He also stated that it had been confirmed to the newspaper that the woman had declined to make a statement when contacted. (The woman had said that she had sought legal advice when requested to make a statement.) The editor further stated that The Southern Star reporter had been in court on the day of the court case.
As the complaint could not be resolved by conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
I am not upholding this complaint.
Principle 1 of the Code of Practice requires the press to strive at all times for truth and accuracy. Principle 7 of the Code of Practice requires the press to ensure that court reports are fair and accurate. In this complaint two versions of the charges against the complainant are put forward, her version and the newspaper’s version. The editor offered to clarify the one point where both sides agreed, that there was no arrest. The other claims by the woman of inaccuracies in the report, even if accepted, were neither sufficiently inaccurate nor misleading in order to breach Principle 7 or to require correction as required in Principle 1.
In regard to the claim that Principle 3 was breached I can find nothing in the report or subsequent correspondence to justify a claim that fair procedures and honesty were not followed by the newspaper in the procuring of news and information.
The complainant raised the issue of information in the report being based on hearsay. The editor said that the reporter was in court, but even if this was not the case, a court report based on information supplied by court documents and/or court officials, provided the information is accurate, does not breach the Code of Practice.
25 May 2020