Ms Kristel Meier and Extra.ie
The Press Ombudsman has upheld a complaint by Ms Kristel Meier that Extra.ie breached Principle 5 (Privacy) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland. Claims that Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) and Principle 4 (Respect for Rights) were breached are not upheld. The Press Ombudsman has found that he has insufficient evidence to make a decision on a claim that Principle 3 (Fair Procedures and Honesty) was breached.
On 18 March 2018 Extra.ie published a report under the heading “Garda translator who worked on gangland murder probe smuggled drugs”. The report stated that Ms Kristel Meier who provided translations services for the Gardaí had been convicted in 2011 in an Estonian court of smuggling cocaine from Ireland into Estonia. Extra.ie reported that she had been sentenced to three-and-a-half years in jail. The report stated that Ms Meier had translated documents for the Garda as part of its investigation into a conspiracy to murder. It also reported a claim by the subject of the Garda investigation that Ms Meier had been assigned by the “Irish legal system… to work as his translator”. The report was illustrated by three photographs of Ms Meier including one of her answering her front door at her home.
Ms Meier complained that the report had breached the Code of Practice. She acknowledged her conviction but stated that she was not a public figure. She said she had not spent three and a half years in prison. In regard to the report’s claim that she had been assigned as a translator to the suspect under investigation by the Gardaí she denied that it had been her. She said that as a result of the publication of the report she had lost her job. She went on to claim that a reporter called to her door and had harassed her in front of visitors and her children. She stated that she had not given permission for her photograph to be taken.
The editor of Extra.ie in response stated that it had not breached Ms Meier’s privacy or damaged her reputation and that what it published “was of considerable public interest”. The editor went on to state that Ms Meier had been “convicted of serious drugs offences in Estonia and had been engaged as an interpreter” (by the Garda). The editor defended his reporter’s approach to Ms Meier at her home as she wished to give Ms Meier an opportunity to respond to the information Extra.ie was preparing to publish. The editor stated that the reporter denied she had harassed Ms Meier on her doorstep. In regard to the publication of the photograph of Ms Meier at her doorstep the editor stated that the photograph had been taken from a “public place and no impropriety was involved either in its taking or publication”. The editor offered to take down the report from the online archive of Extra.ie as “a sign of … good faith”.
Ms Meier responded and said that she was not satisfied with the editor’s offer to take down the article from its website. She repeated her claim that the reporter who called to her door had failed to exercise discretion. She also claimed that the reporter had called “random interpretation agencies telling them about (her) conviction”. She repeated that she was “standing inside her house” when the photograph was taken, where she had the right to privacy. Finally, she repeated that her conviction seven years ago was not of “sufficient public interest” to justify the report.
As the complaint could not be resolved by conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
Upheld part of complaint
People have a reasonable expectation of privacy when they are within their homes. Any breach of that privacy would have to be justified as in the public interest. In this instance Extra.ie already had two other photographs of Ms Meier. There was no justification for the photograph of Ms Meier within her home to be published. The defence put forward by Extra.ie is not persuasive. The fact that the photograph was taken from a “public place” is irrelevant. Ms Meier’s privacy was breached by the publication of the photograph.
Not Upheld part of the complaint
Ms Meier has provided no evidence of any inaccuracy in the report. She claims that the report said that she had spent three-and-a-half years in prison. The report had actually stated that she was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison. This is not disputed. Ms Meier argues that there was no public interest in publishing information about her conviction. The fact that Ms Meier was employed by the Gardai, even if only through a sub-contracted translation agency, and was convicted of drug offences in 2011 is a matter of public interest and can be justified. In regard to the report of the claim that Ms Meier had been assigned to work as translator for the subject of the Garda investigation Extra.ie did not report this as fact, rather as a claim made by the suspect in an Estonian newspaper article.
This principle states that everyone has constitutional protection for his or her good name. The press shall not knowingly publish matters based on malicious misrepresentation or unfounded accusations. There is no evidence that the report was based on malicious misrepresentation or unfounded accusations.
This Principle states that the press shall not obtain information through harassment. The complainant claims that she was harassed by the reporter. Extra.ie denies that its reporter harassed the complainant. Neither side offers any evidence to support these contradicting claims. I have insufficient evidence available to me to determine this part of the complaint.
6 July 2018
Footnote: There have been four other upheld complaints of breaches of Principle 5 that relate to the publishing of photographs of people taken inside the doors of their homes: Sullivan and the Irish News of the World (13 July 2011), Collier and the Sunday Independent (3 May 2012, ) Doyle and the Irish Sun (20 July 2012) and O’Donnell and the Irish Independent (8 June 2017). Details of these decisions are available in the "Outcome of Complaints" section of this website.