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Press watchdog says Indo got it wrong on Gerry Adams letter

The Press Ombudsman says the article breached the Sinn Féin leader’s right to a good name.

THE PRESS OMBUDSMAN has upheld a complaint by Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams that the Irish Independent breached his right to a ‘good name’ by publishing this line, back in May…

In recent days Mr Adams has issued a legal letter to the Irish Independent, attempting to silence our reporting on another investigation.

The line was included in a story about the Jean McConville investigation, and came in the wake of the TD’s arrest and questioning over the case by the PSNI (Adams has always vehemently denied accusations that he was involved in the mother-of-ten’s disappearance and killing).

The Press Ombudsman decided to uphold a complaint by Adams, the body said, because the paper “had knowingly published matter about the complainant based on an unfounded accusation”.

Adams’ solicitors complained that the letter sent to the Indo was “a formal letter of complaint to the editor” made in accordance with the complaints procedures of the Press Ombudsman about a previous article…

“…and one which, they said, raised a genuine concern on behalf of Mr Adams.

“In these circumstances, they said that the statement in the article that this letter was an attempt to silence the newspaper’s reporting on another investigation was an unfounded accusation, in breach of Principle 4 of the Code.”

Source: AP/Press Association Images

According to the Ombudsman…

“The newspaper responded that the letter that it received from Mr Adams’ solicitors was, in its genuine and honest opinion, an effort by Mr Adams to gag the Irish Independent.

The Press Ombudsman decided that the statement complained of was an accusation which, if well-founded, would undoubtedly have affected the complainant’s good name. However, the ‘legal letter’ sent to the editor, upon which the newspaper based its opinion that the complainant had tried to silence its reporting on another investigation, was a formal complaint made to the editor in the context of a possible breach of the Code of Practice for Newspapers and Magazine, and did not contain a threat of legal action.

The finding continues…

“The opinion of the recipient of the letter about its contents does not constitute evidence of anything other than the existence of the opinion concerned.

In these circumstances, the Press Ombudsman decided that the accusation that Mr Adams had issued a legal letter to the newspaper attempting to silence its reporting on another investigation was unfounded and, for this reason, a breach of Principle 4 of the Code of Practice.

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Adams’ solicitors also claimed that the paper “misrepresented and distorted the facts in a malicious attempt to cause maximum damage” to the politician. This part of the complaint was not upheld.

Additionally, the solicitors contended that the article that included the ‘legal letter’ quote — on a poll carried out by the paper, asking whether people believed Adams was involved in the McConville case — was “loaded and biased” and “was not a fair or honest way of procuring and assimilating news and information”.

According to the Ombudsman:

The organisation and methodology of the poll itself, which was the basis for this part of the complaint, is not a matter that is within the remit of the Press Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman’s decision, published on 20 August, was appealed by the Irish Independent.

That appeal was heard by the Press Council at its meeting on 3 October, at which it was rejected, and the original decision of the Press Ombudsman upheld.

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About the author:

Daragh Brophy

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