Ireland’s Press Ombudsman, John Horgan, spoke July 13 at the UK Leveson Inquiry into press standards and practices about Ireland’s media regulation system. During his testimony, Horgan addressed Ireland’s press council’s history and establishment and how the council works.
For example, complainants are “told gently but firmly that they have to go to the newspaper itself…to sort it out informally” with any complaints and then if there’s no resolution, the formal regulation will get involved, Horgan said. By having complainants get directly involved, Horgan said there have been “a couple of beneficial results.” He listed:
“It has demystified the power of the press for complainants to some degree, and it has meant that all our publications have considerably enhanced over the years their independent complaint mechanism handling mechanisms.”
In Horgan’s witness statement, he noted he “was appointed Ireland’s first Press Ombudsman in September 2007” by the country’s press council. He added that his “primary role” is handling complaints and promoting journalism ethics.
The Guardian noted that “Unlike the UK Press Complaints Commission (PCC), the Press Council of Ireland is recognised in law by the country’s Defamation Act 2009.”
According to Horgan’s witness statement, “all daily and weekly titles with substantial national circulations in the Republic of Ireland (including UK-based titles), as well as all significant regional titles and magazines,” belong to the council. During testimony, he clarified that “circulation is not the gauge” for membership, ” it’s whether they’re actually published in Ireland.”
In his testimony, Horgan confirmed Leveson’s question that “there’s an element of subjectivity” in handling ethical principles. Horgan explained: “If you’re asked to interpret and apply a principle which says that newspapers and other publications should show sympathy and discretion to people in situations of stress, distress, whether they’ve shown enough or not enough is essentially, at the end of the day, a value judgment.”
Horgan said that “I think every major newspaper has been the subject of critical adverse findings in one form or another,” and that the council’s requirement that news outlets must run any critical rulings against them is “taken extremely seriously by the editors of all our publications.”
“The public may not see it as seriously as they do, but in my experience editors take it extremely seriously and will take considerable steps to avoid finding themselves in that situation.”
Concerning privacy, he said that the council hasn’t “had any complaint about the private lives of individuals being misrepresented by a newspaper or by another publication under principle 1,” which addresses truth and accuracy. (See here the council’s Code of Practice.)
Read Horgan’s full testimony here.
We wrote in June when the press council released its annual report, which revealed that one-third of the complaints to it in 2011 related to truth and accuracy. The Press Council office’s PA/administrator told iMediaEthics at the time that Horgan had met in May with the PCC to discuss “matters of mutual interest.” The council was also considering an application for membership from a website. Horgan told iMediaEthics by email July 16 that the website’s application for membership “is still being processed.” He explained:
“The reason it is taking some time is that the Council had to establish appropriate criteria by which all new membership applications could be evaluated, and this process is now almost complete. We have not, as yet, had applications from any other news websites.”
We’ve written previously about Horgan’s review of Irish national public broadcaster RTE and its libeling of Catholic priest Father Kevin Reynolds. Horgan looked into RTE’s “editorial processes” after it wrongly claimed that Father Reynolds raped and impregnated a minor.
Hat Tip: The Irish Times