Coulter and the Irish Independent
The Press Council has decided not to uphold a complaint by Ms Carol Coulter about the Irish Independent.
Ms Carol Coulter complained about an article published in the Irish Independent on 21 October 2008, entitled “Twisting the facts to make me appear a racist bigot”, which commented on an earlier article she had written in the Irish Times about a Press Council decision. Ms Coulter complained that the article breached the Code of Practice for Newspapers and Periodicals under Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy), in that it did not truthfully and accurately represent what she wrote or the Press Council decision itself; under Principle 3 (Fairness and Honesty ), in that the newspaper did not strive for fairness and honesty in the publishing of news and information because it published a misrepresentation of what she had written and of the Irish Times headline and the ruling of the Press Council; and under Principle 4 (Respect for Rights), in that her right to her good name had been infringed.
The newspaper responded that the writer of the article was entitled to object in the strongest terms to the manner in which the complainant sought to portray the Press Council’s decision, and that the article in question did not breach the Code of Practice.
The Press Ombudsman referred the complaint to the Press Council of Ireland for decision as both articles related to a decision of the Press Council.
The Press Council noted that while the tone of the article which was the subject of the complaint was provocative, and the language often intemperate, these elements do not in themselves involve any breach of the Code of Practice, which includes a right of newspapers and periodicals to publish comment and to advocate strongly their own particular views. While the right to comment does, of course, have limits, it is the area of journalism where freedom of expression must be given the widest scope, and the strong statement of this right in the Code implies that complaints about breaches of the Code in comment articles must be based on evidence that is unambiguous and compelling.
The decision of the Press Council in this case was guided by these considerations.
In relation to the complaint under Principle 1, the Press Council decided that because the article in the Irish Independent based its criticism of the complainant on a demonstrable argument that the complainant’s earlier article in the Irish Times about a Press Council decision was seriously misleading, and that it could convey an erroneous impression of that decision, it did not exceed the boundaries of comment protected by the Code of Practice. The complaint under Principle 1 is therefore not upheld.
In relation to Principle 3, the complainant argued that the newspaper did not strive for fairness and honesty in publishing what she described as a misrepresentation of what she had written and of what the Council had decided. Principle 3, however, implicitly accepts that comment is distinguished from news and information in relation to the requirement of this Principle for fairness and honesty, and the complaint under this Principle is therefore not upheld.
With respect to the complaint under Principle 4, the author of the comment article had contended that the misleading opening summary in the article in the Irish Times was deliberate and that its presentation was designed to discredit him. The complainant repudiated these allegations and argued that they infringed her right to her good name. As the available evidence was insufficient to enable it to make a conclusive determination in relation to the diametrically opposed views expressed in the article and in the complaint, the Press Council decided that it could make no finding in regard to the complaint under Principle 4.
27 March 2009