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Press Ombudsman & Council – just another useless Irish regulator?

As of January 1st, 2008 the Press Ombudsman and the Press Council of Ireland are no in place. According to the Press Council of Ireland website, everybody in Ireland now has access to an independent press complaints mechanism that is quick, fair and free. This is one of the most positive developments in the history of Ireland’s newspapers and periodicals.

The new complaints mechanism is designed to ensure that the freedom of the press is never abused, and that the public interest is always served. These are the main principles of independent press regulation all around the world.

The site itself is a bit confusing as there are separate links for the Press Council as opposed to the Press Ombudsman. Apparently, any complaints go to the Press Ombudsman first who will “attempt to resolve the matter by making direct contact with the editor of the publication concerned”. This sounds horribly like the way our useless NCA and ODCE try to “work with” offenders rather than actually enforce the law.

Any complaints where “conciliation” is not possible can either be determined by the Ombudsman, or escalated to the Press Council.

Obviously, given the activities of Charlie Weston and my interest in other newspaper stories in the past year, I was interested to see what, if anything, this further extra regulator would be useful for, or would actually be able to do.

In the case of Mr.Weston, it seems as he may possibly have contravened (though not specifically according to the letter of the text) Principle 3 of the Code of Practice.

Principle 3 − Fairness and Honesty

3.1 Newspapers and periodicals shall strive at all times for fairness and honesty in the procuring and publishing of news and information.

3.2 Publications shall not obtain information, photographs or other material through misrepresentation or subterfuge, unless justified by the public interest.

In the case of the Richard Delevan article (which may or may not have gotten him fired), I don’t believe there is anything within the Code of Practice under which Mr.Ken McDonald could legitimately have complained. Possibly, Principle 5 – Privacy could have been used, however, subsection 5.2 states that:

Readers are entitled to have news and comment presented with respect for the privacy and sensibilities of individuals. However, the right to privacy should not prevent publication of matters of public record or in the public interest.

As far as I know, everything reported by Mr.Delevan had already been reported in the “press” previously, and there had been no previous complaints about this.

However, the sacking of Mr.Delevan, and the Irish Times articles referred to in my most recent “press” post, would both possibly fall foul of Princile 2 – Distinguishing Fact and Comment. Under subsection2.2, it states that:

Readers are entitled to expect that the content of a publication reflects the best judgement of editors and writers and has not been inappropriately influenced by undisclosed interests. Where relevant, any significant financial interest of an organisation should be disclosed. Writers should disclose significant potential conflicts of interest to their editor. (My bolded italics).

Finally, there are a number of journalists who’s work I’m familiar with who appear to make up unattributed quotes (“We spoke to one mother of six children”) and comments in order to justify an angle they’re trying to personally take in articles. It will be interesting to see if these journalists to continue to do so – especially as this activity would appear to contravene Principle 2 also, subsection 2.1

Comment, conjecture, rumour and unconfirmed reports shall not be reported as if they were fact, but newspapers and periodicals are entitled to advocate strongly their own views on topics.

As time goes on, it will be interesting if journalist behaviour changes, and if it doesn’t, what the Press Ombudsman and the Press Council will do about any complaints submitted to them. If you have a complaint to make, you should go here. Oh, sorry, you should go here actually.

Remember, this doesn’t work retrospectively – only for articles published after January 1, 2008.

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