THE Press Ombudsman and the Press Council of Ireland have upheld a complaint made by Clare hurling manager Brian Lohan regarding an article in the Irish Independent, writes Owen Ryan.
Mr Lohan was not given an opportunity to comment prior to the publication of the article, which made a number of critical references to him.
It was subsequently found that Principle 1 of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland had been breached, which states that in reporting news and information, the press shall strive at all times for truth and accuracy.
In a summary of the matter published on the Press Council website it stated, “On the 6 July 2021, the Press Ombudsman upheld a complaint that the Irish Independent breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.
“The Irish Independent published in its sports section an article about how, among other things, Covid-19 restrictions had led to a dispute about what had happened at a sports ground before a training session.
“Other issues about coaching and related matters were also raised in the article. The complainant was named repeatedly in the article. Many of the references to the complainant were critical in tone.”
Following publication, the paper refused to provide the apology and clarification sought by Mr Lohan.
“The complainant, through his solicitors, wrote to the Irish Independent pointing out what it said were several inaccuracies in the report none of which, the solicitors said, were checked with their client prior to publication. The complainant sought a published apology and an agreed clarification. The editor responded by saying that there were “different views of a number of matters referred to in the article”.
“The editor offered to publish an interview with the complainant which would allow him to address the issues he complained about in the article. Solicitors representing the complainant responded by saying their client did not wish to have a ‘piece written about himself’. The editor responded to this by offering to publish a letter from the complainant as an alternative, in which he could highlight his issues with the article.This offer was not accepted by the complainant and a formal complaint was made to the Office of the Press Ombudsman that Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) of the Code of Practice had been breached by the Irish Independent.
“In their formal submission to the Press Ombudsman the complainant’s solicitors said that ‘the article goes far beyond what can be deemed as fair commentary’. They described the article as “inaccurate and untruthful”. They went on to state that the newspaper “never sought to seek verification or comment” from their client before it went to press.
“The editor in his submission to the Press Ombudsman defended the article as published. He said that the complainant had not established a single clear-cut example of a factual inaccuracy that requires correction.
“As the complaint could not be resolved by conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.”
The Ombudsman took the view that Mr Lohan should have been given an opportunity to comment prior to the publication of the article, given the criticism of him included in it.
“Part of the complaint related to what happened at a sports ground, and other parts related to differences between officials. I have insufficient evidence available to me as to which version of events is accurate.
“Sports commentary is frequently presented in a robust fashion in columns. There is a degree of licence for commentators to be passionate or even partisan in their interpretation of events.
“However, all commentary must observe the requirement found in Principle 1 to strive at all times for truth and accuracy. In this instance the column included some very critical assertions against the complainant.
“It is advisable journalistic practice that when something that is planned to be published that could be damaging or could impact on the reputation of an individual an opportunity to respond is offered.”
“It is true that in this instance a right-of-reply was offered by the editor, and the publication of a letter, but not until after the column had been published.
“To conform to requirements found in Principle 1 the newspaper should have contacted the complainant prior to publication to give him an opportunity to respond to the critical comments it proposed to publish and to allow the complainant give his perspective on the issues raised. For these reasons I have decided that Principle 1 was breached.”
The Irish Independent subsequently appealed to the Press Council and setting out the grounds of appeal, the Press Council summarised, “The editor stated that the article, which he said was not a news article, offered contrasting views of issues rather than direct criticism or factual inaccuracies regarding the complainant.
“He said that in circumstances where the Press Ombudsman acknowledged that no factual inaccuracy had been established, he failed to give sufficient consideration to the offer by the newspaper of an interview with the complaint, and a letter to the editor, as a right of reply.”
However a meeting of the Press Council held on September 3 upheld the earlier decision and did not accept the view that the article was not a news article.
“It rejected the appeal and decided that the Press Ombudsman had not erred in his application of the Code, specifically Principle 1.1 of the Code which states that “in reporting news and information, the press shall strive at all times for truth and accuracy.
“The Council deemed the article was a news article, and given the very specific context and content of the information that was published therein, it decided that the newspaper, in these particular circumstances, should have contacted the complainant prior to publication to give him an opportunity to comment.”