Address by Professor John Horgan to meeting of Regional Newspapers and Publishers Association
The passage of the Defamation Act 2009 and the completion of the procedures envisaged under this Act will create a radically new system of accountability for the print media which will mean that expensive legal processes will have to be invoked much less frequently than before.
The office of the Press Ombudsman and the Press Council of Ireland hope to be an integral part of this new system, offering complainants and publications alike the possibility of resolving the vast majority of complaints without recourse to the courts or to legal advisers.
Only just over 10% of the complaints received by my office in the first six months of this year have been made by solicitors on behalf of their clients. This underlines the fact that there is no need for a person to engage a solicitor to make a complaint about a newspaper, and that engaging a solicitor does not add to the possibility that a complaint against a newspaper or other publication will be upheld.
In fact, although engaging a solicitor is of course a right available to anyone, this can sometimes slow down the whole process, because publications which receive solicitors’ letters, either directly or through our Office, tend to have them dealt with by their own solicitors rather than directly by the editor. This can add to the complexity of negotiations, the length of time for processing complaints and may, in some circumstances, reduce the possibility of conciliation between the parties.
Solicitors are experts in dealing with legal matters. The Code of Practice for Newspapers and Periodicals, which is the basis for all our activities and to which all our member publications subscribe fully, is not a statute but a voluntary and very effective framework within which many complaints can be satisfactorily resolved with goodwill on all sides.
In the first six months of this year a greater number of complaints were successfully conciliated by my Office than were upheld by me. This is proof positive that direct contacts between editors and complainants, managed by my Office, offer by far the best prospect of arriving at a mutually satisfactory resolution of bona fide complaints by readers.