455/2020 - Mr Hermann Kelly and TheJournal.ie

By admin
Friday, 31st July 2020
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The Press Ombudsman has decided not to uphold a complaint made by Mr Hermann Kelly that TheJournal.ie breached Principle 1 of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.

On 21 July 2020 TheJournal.ie published an article under the heading “Explainer: Will Ireland be a ‘net contributor’ to the EU’s €750 billion recovery fund?”.  The article reported on a plan developed by EU leaders to put in place a pandemic recovery fund for economies suffering from the effects of Covid 19. Answering the question “Is Ireland  a ‘net contributor’ to the €750 billion recovery fund?” the article  stated “No, not for the moment anyway”   The article went  on to state that the Commission will have to pay back the €750 billion and that Member States will also eventually have to do so.  The article noted that the deadline for completion of repayment of the €750 billion loan was 2058.

Mr Hermann Kelly, of the Irish Freedom Party, wrote to the editor of TheJournal.ie stating that the article was misleading and therefore a distorted report because it omitted to include information which he said was vital, including that Ireland will be fully  liable for its portion of the debt (minus any raised by taxes as yet unagreed at the European Council), that it was clear from Council documents that debt repayments begin in 2028 and that information on Ireland’s debt liability was available in Commission documents.

As Mr Kelly did not receive a response to his complaint from TheJournal.ie he made a formal complaint to the Office of the Press Ombudsman claiming that TheJournal.ie had breached Principle 1.2 of the Code of Practice of the Press Council.

The editor of TheJournal.ie responded by saying that the research for the article had been carried out with “journalistic rigour” and that the European Commission’s explanatory note for the table which Mr Kelly referred to included the following explanation “illustrative key for the sole purpose of the preliminary estimation of the potential impact of the recovery package using the Commission’s QUEST model presented on p.43”. The editor concluded that the details in the document were “illustrative and based on a model for a working paper”.

Mr Kelly responded that he stood over his belief that vital information was missing from the report and therefore it was a “distorted report”.

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

Press Ombudsman’s Decision (16 September 2020)

Principle 1.2 states

When a significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distorted report or picture has been published, it shall be corrected promptly and with due prominence.

The article that led to this complaint came to a tentative conclusion. It answered the question “is Ireland a net contributor”  by saying “No, not for the moment anyway”. Individual nations’ liabilities resulting from the loan were dependent on unforeseen circumstances. The article did not make any claim to be definitive. Mr Kelly’s reliance on the outcome of a modelling exercise is not sufficient to uphold his complaint that the article was a distorted report. Therefore, I am not upholding the complaint.

Press Council’s decision on appeal (6 November 2020)

Mr Kelly appealed the decision of the Press Ombudsman on the grounds (a) that significant new information was available that could not have been made available to the Press Ombudsman before making his decision and (b) that there had been an error in the Press Ombudsman’s application of the Code of Practice.

The Press Council considered the appeal and decided to reject it on the grounds (a) that the appeal did not contain sufficient evidence of any significant new information to support it and (b) that the Press Ombudsman had not erred in his application of the Code of Practice.