Tag: Press Council

Recognising the Press Council

Press Council and Ombudsman logoSection 44 (also here) of the Defamation Act, 2009 (also here) provides that the Minister for Justice may by recognise a body as the “Press Council” , and Schedule 2 (also here) to the Act sets out the minimum requirements such a body must meet to be so recognised. The Irish media established a Press Council of Ireland and the Office of the Press Ombudsman with effect from 1 January 2009, and the Minister announced yesterday that this would be recognised as the Press Council for the purposes of the Act (here’s the press release, with added links):

Ahern to seek Oireachtas approval for formal recognition of the Press Council

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr. Dermot Ahern, T.D., announced today that he is asking the Dáil and Séanad to approve an Order by him declaring the formal recognition of the Press Council of Ireland as the “Press Council”.

Minister Ahern said that the application from the Press Council of Ireland under section 44 of the Defamation Act 2009 has been examined with reference to the requirements in Schedule 2 of the Act and that he was satisfied that the application met those requirements.

These requirements involve the objectives of the Press Council, its composition, its independence, the appointment of independent directors, financial arrangements, the role and operation of the Office of Press Ombudsman and a code of standards.

Formal recognition will confer certain benefits on the Press Council. A significant benefit is that qualified privilege will attach to its reports and decisions as well as those of the Press Ombudsman. Subscription to the Press Council and adherence to the Code of Practice for Newspapers and Periodicals will strengthen the entitlement to avail of the new defence of reasonable publication in any court action [see section 26(2)(f) of the Act (also here)]. Non-members of the Press Council will be required to have in place an equivalent fairness regime or to operate an equivalent and publicised code of standards to avail of that defence.

There is more coverage here and here from the Irish Times. At a time when other countries are looking with favour on the Irish model, it heartening to see the final pieces of the Defamation Act jigsaw slotting into place.

The good, the bad, and the ugly

Poster for movie 'The good, the bad and the ugly' via the Rotten Tomatoes movie website.Three stories from today’s Irish Times caught my eye. First, the good. The Press Council of Ireland and the Office of the Press Ombudsman launched their first annual report yesterday. The press industry undoubtedly did a good thing in establishing the Press Council and the Ombudsman, and yesterday’s report on the first year of operation shows the wisdom of that decision. The launch of the report is covered in the Home News section of the Irish Times, and welcomed in the lead editorial . From the report [with added links]:

Praise for complaints system after release of Press Ombudsman’s report

AGGRIEVED READERS made over 370 complaints about newspapers and magazines last year during the Press Ombudsman‘s first year of work, his annual report reveals. … Reviewing the performance of the Press Council of Ireland and the Office of the Press Ombudsman in their annual report published yesterday, council chairman Prof Tom Mitchell said the innovative and effective regulatory system offered significant benefits to the press and public. …

Moreover, speaking at the launch, the Minister for Justice, Dermot Ahern, said he hoped that the long-delayed Defamation Bill, 2006 would become law by the summer, an aspiration which Prof Mitchell greeted as “wonderful news”.

Second, the bad. Well, it’s no much that it’s bad as that it’s not enough. At present, Irish broadcasting law bans political advertising, and tightly regulates religious advertising. It was originally intended simply to restate this position in the Broadcasting Bill, 2006, but the Minister for Communications, Eamon Ryan, has announced that the restrictions on religious advertisements. This, too, is a good thing. But it is not enough of a good thing. The ban on political advertising should also have been revisited. And the failure to address this issue is a bad thing. From the report:

Controls on religious ads for broadcast to be relaxed

MINISTER FOR Communications Eamon Ryan will soften current restrictions on religious advertisements that are broadcast on television and radio. … “Advertising shouldn’t be used for promoting a particular religion or as an agent for recruitment. At the same time, I don’t want to completely restrict advertising that has a religious connotation.” …

Third, the ugly. And this is downright ugly. When the Defamation Bill, 2006 was introduced into the Seanad, it had an ugly twin, the Privacy Bill, 2006. However, as the Defamation Bill proceeded on its fitful way through the Oireachtas [Parliament], the Privacy Bill seemed to fade. Now, it is back with a bang. I do not for one moment doubt that Irish law on privacy is in need of reform, but I likewise do not think that the Privacy Bill as it was introduced in 2006 is the answer to that need. It was overly-restrictive on the meida, whilst ignoring almost every other aspect of privacy protection (eg, cctv, online privacy, genetic privacy, and so on). It now seems that the revived Bill will address some at least of those other issue, but the tone of the Minister’s comments yesterday suggest that the draconian media provisions will remain. And if they do, that would be an ugly thing. From the report:

Ahern says he plans to revive privacy Bill

MINISTER FOR Justice Dermot Ahern has revived plans to introduce laws to protect the privacy of individuals, citing a “worrying trend in media intrusion in order to get a good story”.

Yesterday, however, Mr Ahern announced he planned to inject fresh momentum into the Bill by updating its provisions to reflect recent legal and technological developments. … The violation of privacy was not the exclusive preserve of the media, he said, and many complaints over privacy now concerned actions by individual citizens against others. …

He made these comments at the launch of the Press Ombudsman’s annual report referred to above, and today’s Irish Independent‘s report of the launch led with this aspect of his speech. This was where he made his comments on the prospects for the Defamation Bill’s eventual enactment (which I think is a good thing). But he said that he had “misgivings” about the defence of reasonable publication. And if these misgivings translate into the removal of the defence from the Bill, that would be a very ugly thing indeed.

Update (5 April 2009): Leave Press Council to do its work: in the Sunday Independent, Emer O’Kelly argues that the Government’s plan to amend the law on privacy will restrict freedom of enquiry, and it would be better if the Press Ombudsman and Press Council were to develop a body of decisions to cover the area.

Suicide in the media

'The Suicide' by ManetFrom today’s Observer, an article by Carole Cadwalladr that makes the case for the ethical reporting of suicide:

How Bridgend was damned by distortion

… the Bridgend suicides are a case unto themselves. I ask Dr Lars Johansson of Umeå University, Sweden, who has published several papers on teenage suicide, about other, larger clusters, but there hasn’t ever been one. It is the largest teen suicide cluster of modern times, he says, and there’s never been a cluster reported as sensationally, as comprehensively, as widely, or for as long. … But now that the media furore has died down, so have the deaths. Is that a coincidence? And is it just another coincidence that the highest incidence of deaths occurred when the media reporting of the phenomenon was at its height?

The available academic research on the subject of media and suicide is damning: that there is a clear, documented link. And that our thirst for the story looks, from this distance, like a sort of bloodlust. … ever since the first modern research into media and suicide was undertaken in 1974 by the sociologist David Phillips, it’s been known that mass media can be a factor in contagion. … Summing up the evidence in an article for the BMJ in 2002, Professor Keith Hawton, head of the Oxford Centre for Suicide Research, the leading UK institution and probably the world’s greatest authority on suicide and the media, describes the evidence for a link between the two as “overwhelming”. Research has repeatedly shown that reporting by media may facilitate suicidal acts among vulnerable individuals. And that the most vulnerable are the young. …

In an Irish context, have a look at the work of Headline, and the Press Council‘s recent discussion document on the topic (pdf).

Ethical reporting of suicide

FriendsSpirit Moves is a discussion programme on RTÉ Radio which explores ethical issues that arise from current news events. It is broadcast on RTÉ Radio 1 on Sunday evenings at 6:00pm; it is re-broadcast on RTÉ Choice (one of RTÉ’s Digital Radio Stations) on Monday afternoons at 4:00pm; and episodes -including this – are available to stream here. This evening’s programme discussed the ethical and legal issues that arise in the context of reporting suicide. The host was Tom McGurk, and the participants included Colum Kenny, Joan Freeman, Paul Drury, Tom Clonan, and Lisa O’Carroll.

Suicide is a serious and tragic social issue, on which several indefatigable organisations do sterling work. In particular, reporting it has been the subject of a conference (pdf) by the Irish Association of Suicidology, and of a report (pdf) by the National Office of Suicide Prevention. The American Association of Suicidology has developed a set of sensitive guidelines on the reporting of suicide; and Headline (blogged here) is doing something similar in Ireland.

The Press Council has recently published a very interesting Discussion Document (pdf) on the issue. As I’ve previously argued on this blog, the key point is that much of the reason for sensationalist media coverage (that sells papers or delivers audience share) is because we – the general public – buy the papers and listen to or watch the programmes. We can’t just blame the media for sensationalist reporting. If we – as readers, listeners or viewers – weren’t interested in the prurient details, then the media wouldn’t report them. These issues may interest the public, but it doesn’t follow that it is in the public interest to report them. This is especially true where people are thrust unwillingly by tragedy into the limelight. If the Press Council can navigate a clear course on this issue, it will certainly make a very important contribution to the development of appropriate ethical reporting standards in Ireland.

Pressing statistics

Press Council and Ombudsman logoThe statistics for the first six months of operation of the Press Ombudsman make for interesting reading.

According to Ruadán Mac Cormaic in the Irish Times over the weekend:

Press Ombudsman gets 200 complaints

ALMOST 200 complaints were made to the Press Ombudsman in the office’s first six months in operation, new figures show. … Statistics published by the ombudsman’s office yesterday show that, of the 20 cases decided upon, one was fully upheld, six were partially upheld and 12 were not upheld. In the final case, the newspaper offered sufficient remedial action to resolve the complaint.

Here is a sample of some of the data:

• Total number of complaints received: 193
• Number of complaints decided upon by Press Ombudsman: 20

Complaints made under the Code of Practice
• Principle 1: Truth and Accuracy: 63
• Principle 5: Privacy: 28

• Total number of decisions by Press Ombudsman appealed to Press Council: 12