Munster Technology University Project and the Irishtimes.com
The Press Ombudsman has decided not to uphold a complaint made by the Munster Technology University Project that the Irishtimes.com breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) and Principle 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment).
On 15 March 2016 the Irishtimes.com published an article under the heading “Technology universities: are they really such a good idea?” The article gave the background to the campaign to see the amalgamation of some Institutes of Technology into new technology universities. It reported that there was a long-standing campaign to have a university in Waterford and that the Dublin Institute of Technology be upgraded to a university. The article also made reference to a government-commissioned report on savings that could be achieved by the amalgamation of some smaller Institutes of Technology. The article outlined the views of those in favour of the new technology universities and those opposed to the proposals.
The Munster Technology University Project emailed the Irishtimes.com with a series of questions about the article, including wanting to know why they had not been contacted prior to publication with an opportunity to reply to the article and wanting to know where the figure of €45 million to merge just two institutions came from.
The Irishtimes.com replied to the project’s email, defending the article and expressing full confidence in the reporter who had written the article. It said the reference in the article to costs of €45 million came from official Department of Education documents. It went on to say that the Munster Technology University Project was only one of many organisations affected by issues raised in the article and that it would be impossible to put all the issues raised to the organisations mentioned in the article. The Irishtimes.com did offer to consider publishing a letter if the project felt aggrieved.
The Project was not satisfied with this response and made a formal complaint to the Office of the Press Ombudsman, claiming breaches of Principle 1 and Principle 2 of the Code.
The editor of the irishtimes.com in his submission to the office of the Press Ombudsman stood over the report and described it as a piece of “meticulous journalism” and that the complaint reflected “a deep misunderstanding about the nature of the journalistic process”. The editor then proceeded to defend the article in detail with links to relevant supporting evidence and appendices backing the article’s conclusions.
The Munster Technology University Project replied to the editor’s submission and continued to challenge some of the article’s findings. In particular it continued to argue that the project should have been offered an opportunity to respond to the article prior to publication.
As the complaint could not be conciliated it was sent to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
I am not upholding this complaint. I have carefully read the detailed and lengthy submissions of the complainant and the publisher. I have concluded that the claims made in the article were supported by evidence and that the complainant’s refutation of some of the claims found in the article is not persuasive. In particular I do not believe there was any requirement for the reporter to seek the views of the project prior to publication as the article was concerned with the wider campaign for technology universities and was not concentrated on the particular campaign for a Munster Technology University.
22 June 2016