Paul Murphy TD and The Sunday Business Post
The Press Ombudsman has not upheld a complaint made by Paul Murphy TD that The Sunday Business Post breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.
On 18 February 2018 The Sunday Business Post published an article under the heading “Garda report claims Murphy ‘made Jobstown crowds more aggressive’”. The article reported that an internal Garda report had stated that at a protest in Tallaght, which had surrounded the then Tanaiste Joan Burton and her adviser, Karen O’Connell, in their car, comments made by Paul Murphy TD had made the crowd more aggressive. The article went on to outline how this claim had not been used in the unsuccessful prosecution of a number of people, including Deputy Murphy, for false imprisonment. The report concluded with a brief summary of the trial where all the defendants had been found not guilty.
Deputy Murphy wrote to The Sunday Business Post claiming there were two significant errors in the article published on 18 February. Both inaccuracies occurred, Deputy Murphy claimed, in the concluding part of the report which had summarised the trial for false imprisonment. The first inaccuracy related to a statement that Deputy Burton and Ms O’Connell had been trapped in their car for three and a half hours during the protest. The second inaccuracy referred to the claim in the article that a Garda jeep’s windscreen had been “smashed in”.
In regard to the first claim of inaccuracy Deputy Murphy said that defence evidence in the trial had suggested that Deputy Burton and Ms O’Connell had not been trapped for that period in their car and that they could have exited their car or stayed in their car while it reversed in the opposite direction to the protest. He claimed this should have been included in the summary of the trial in the report.
In regard to the second claim of inaccuracy Deputy Murphy said that reporting that the Garda jeep’s windscreen had been “smashed in” was inaccurate. He said that the windscreen had been cracked and supplied a photograph of the jeep to support his claim.
The Sunday Business Post defended its publication stating that the claim that Deputy Burton and Ms O’Connell had been trapped for three and a half hours had been widely reported. In regard to the state of the windscreen the newspaper stated that in evidence in court the windscreen had been described by witnesses as “smashed” and elsewhere as “shattered with a hole in it”. The newspaper argued that the report’s description of the windscreen as “smashed in” was not a “significant factual inaccuracy which requires clarification”. The newspaper concluded by stating that it was preparing a lengthy feature interview with Deputy Murphy and that if “there were issues which he wanted to bring up the opportunity was there to do so”.
Deputy Murphy was not satisfied with this response from The Sunday Business Post and made a complaint to the Office of the Press Ombudsman stating that Principle 1 of the Code of Practice had been breached. He stated that the “three and a half hours trapped in the car” summary “amounts to inaccurate reporting” unless reference was made in the report to the fact that this was disputed in court. He also did not accept the editor’s defence of the description of the state of the Garda jeep’s windscreen in the report
In a submission to the Office of the Press Ombudsman the editor of The Sunday Business Post stood over the accuracy of its report. He repeated that Deputy Murphy had been offered an opportunity “to further outline his views on the Jobstown protest as part of a lengthy feature on him”. The editor included that feature interview with his submission.
Deputy Murphy in a submission to the Office of the Press Ombudsman stated that he remained dissatisfied with the editor’s response. He did not consider the opportunity afforded in the features interview which The Sunday Business Post was preparing did not “represent any attempt to correct the inaccuracies contained in the article of 18 February”.
As the complaint could not be resolved by conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
The report published on 18 February carried for background purposes a brief summary of the court proceedings in 2017. It included the following “The trial heard that Burton and her advisor Karen O’Connell were trapped for three and a half hours during the protest, first in an unmarked Garda car and later in a Garda jeep which had the front windscreen smashed in”. This is a factually accurate account of what happened in court. In such a short summary provided as background it was not necessary for the newspaper to carry the information that this claim that Deputy Burton and her advisor had been trapped for three and a half hours was challenged by counsel for the defence. The summary of the court proceedings did clearly include the essential information that Deputy Murphy and his co-accused were found not guilty of falsely imprisoning Ms Burton and her adviser.
In regard to the reporting of the condition of the Garda jeep’s windscreen Principle 1.2 requires that when a “significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distorted report” has been published it shall be corrected. I do not regard the distinction between the two claims as to the condition of the windscreen as “significant” and therefore I find there is no breach of Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy).
In regard to the claim made by the editor that the interview with Deputy Murphy published on 18 March constituted a right-of-reply I am not taking a view on this as I have concluded that there was no breach of Principle 1 in the article and therefore the issue of a right-of-reply does not arise.
1 May 2018