A Woman and the IrishSun.ie
The Press Council of Ireland has decided to uphold an appeal from the Newspaper against a decision of the Press Ombudsman.
The Press Ombudsman has upheld a complaint by a woman that the Sun.ie breached Principle 5 (Privacy) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland. The woman also complained that the article breached Principle 4 (Respect for Rights) and Principle 8 (Prejudice) of the Code of Practice. This part of the complaint was not upheld.
The Sun.ie published a report that the complainant had been awarded damages following a road accident. The article contained information on her deceased husband’s criminal record, his confession to a murder and his suicide almost a decade ago.
Solicitors representing the woman wrote to the Sun.ie stating that they had no difficulty with the court reporting part of the article but felt that it was “grossly unfair that (their) client should be confronted with an extremely unpleasant past in respect whereof she is not responsible”. The woman’s solicitors went on to state that the publication had caused their client “unnecessary trauma” and the publication had resulted in her suffering in her job. They requested the newspaper publish a formal apology.
The Sun responded to the solicitors saying that “there was no intention on the part of this newspaper to in any way hurt or distress your client”. The newspaper declined to publish an apology stating that the report had included the view of the presiding Judge in the court case that the woman was “an honest lady” and an “entirely innocent party”.
The woman’s solicitors made a formal complaint to the Office of the Press Ombudsman claiming that the article had breached Principle 4, Principle 5 and Principle 8 of the Code of Practice. They stated that the article had “absolutely no regard” for their client’s privacy citing the inclusion of information in the article about their client’s deceased husband.
In a submission to the Office of the Press Ombudsman the Sun.ie stated that they were “sorry to see that (the) article has caused upset” to the woman and that this was never their intention. They sought clarification as to why a request had been made for an apology, pointing out that the article had included the judge’s favourable comments about the woman.
Solicitors for the woman described the newspaper’s response as “disingenuous” and that mentioning their client’s husband’s past was “both despicable and unnecessary”
As the complaint could not be resolved by conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
The article published in the Sun.ie included information about the complainant’s late husband. This was not relevant to any understanding of the court case. The Judge was reported as describing the woman as “an entirely innocent party”. Therefore, I can find no justification in including references to the woman’s husband in the report. Principle 5 states that the right to privacy shall not prevent publication of matters of public record or in the public interest. I accept that what was published about the woman’s husband in the article was mostly based on information on the public record. However, like all rights, the right to publish information on the public record cannot be unqualified and the relevance of such information to the subject matter of the article that has led to the complaint has to be taken into consideration. This is especially the case in court reporting when information is included in an article which was not made known in court. As the information published about the woman’s husband was not relevant to the report of court proceedings I am upholding this part of the woman’s complaint as a breach of Principle 5.
Other parts of the complaint were not upheld.
There is no evidence that the article contained any matter “based on malicious misrepresentation or unfounded accusations”. The article contained a court report augmented with information about the complainant’s husband. I have no reason to believe that the publication did not “take reasonable care in checking facts before publication”.
I can find no evidence that the Sun.ie published anything “intended to cause grave offence or likely to cause stir up hatred against an individual” .. on the basis of the complainant’s “race religion, nationality, colour, ethnic origin, membership of the travelling community, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, illness or age”.
21 May 2018
The complainant and the publication both appealed against the decision of the Press Ombudsman to the Press Council.
Decision of the Press Council
The appeals were heard by the Press Council at its meeting on 6 July 2018.
The complainant appealed the Press Ombudsman’s decision on the grounds that there was an error in the Press Ombudsman’s application of the Code of Practice. The Press Council decided that the appeal was not admissible because it did not contain sufficient evidence to support the grounds cited.
The publication appealed the Press Ombudsman’s decision on the grounds (a) that significant new information was available that could not have been or was not made available to the Press Ombudsman before he made his decision and (b) that there was an error in the Press Ombudsman’s application of the Code of Practice. The Press Council considered the appeal under (a) and decided to reject it on the grounds that no significant new information was submitted. The Press Council considered the appeal under (b) and decided to uphold the appeal on the grounds that the Press Ombudsman based his decision on the relevance of the information complained about, where relevance under Principle 5 of the Code does not arise in circumstances where the information was already on the public record or in the public domain, and where its accuracy was not disputed. The Press Council decided therefore to uphold the appeal.
Note: The complainant has exercised her right under data protection legislation to have this decision reported in an anonymous form