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Paul Murphy complaint about Irish Times article not upheld by Press Ombudsman

Murphy appealed to the Press Council of Ireland but it found there was insufficient evidence to support the appeal.

Image: Sam Boal via RollingNews.ie

A COMPLAINT MADE by TD Paul Murphy about an article in the Irish Times has not been upheld by the Press Ombudsman.

Murphy complained about an article published on 12 July on his trial for his part in the alleged detention of the then Tanaiste Joan Burton at a protest in Jobstown in west Dublin.

Murphy claimed that the article headlined ‘Paul Murphy wraps himself in Jobstown martyrdom’ breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.

The Office of the Press Ombudsman stated that the article appeared in a column which frequently uses irony to comment on current events.

The article was a commentary on the Jobstown protest which resulted in Murphy facing court charges for which he was cleared.

‘Unfounded assertions’

Murphy wrote to the editor of The Irish Times stating that the article was an “inaccurate summation of the nature of the protest”.

He made three specific complaints about the article:

  • “The clear and false implication that protesters were banging on car windows for hours”
  • “The reference to Joan Burton and Karen O’Connell (the Tánaiste’s assistant) being ‘trapped for hours’ as a matter of fact”
  • “The clear and false implication that (he) was hiding behind Dáil privilege to make claims of perjury”

In a submission to the Office of the Press Ombudsman, the editor of The Irish Times stood over the article and stated that it had not claimed the banging on the car windows had continued for hours, rather that “these things occurred while the women were trapped in the car”.

Paul O’Neill said that Murphy referred “selectively to video footage and transcripts made available by the ‘jobstownnotguilty’ website and other matter”.

The editor also stated that the jury concluded that the persons charged were not guilty, not that the women were not falsely imprisoned. He concluded by offering, in “the interests of conciliation” to consider a letter for publication from Deputy Murphy.

Replying to the response, Murphy stated that the article had contained “unfounded assertions about the events” at the Jobstown protest.

He said the jury at the trial was only “entitled to determine the guilt or innocence of the accused” and not to decide on other matters.

He also noted that the editor had not addressed his complaint that he had “hidden behind Dáil privilege to make claims of perjury”.

As the complaint could not be resolved through conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.

‘Insufficient evidence’

The Ombudsman stated that there is a degree of licence available to commentators, especially when readers are aware of the use of irony by the commentator.

However, it also noted the obligation not to breach any of the Principles of the Code of Practice applies in all instances.

I have insufficient evidence to make a decision on the first two parts of Deputy Murphy’s complaint. Having read the submissions made to my office I am unable to determine how long the Tánaiste and her assistant were trapped in their car or how long the banging on the windows and the shouting of obscenities lasted.

The third part of Deputy Murphy’s complaint refers to a statement in the article that he “disregarded repeated invitations from Minister of State for Finance Patrick O’Donovan to repeat his allegations outside the protection of the chamber.”

He complained that this statement gave a false implication that he was hiding behind Dáil privilege to make claims of perjury.

A week before the Irish Times article, the Irish Examiner published a story that included a statement from Murphy where he said he believed that perjury was committed by the gardaí in the case.

The statement complained about was published a week later in The Irish Times following an exchange in the Dáil and referred only to what had been said in the Dáil.

It didn’t state that Murphy did not or would not repeat his claims outside the Dáil, but that he had disregarded the repeated invitations by Minister O’Donovan in the Dáil for him to do so.

However, Murphy acknowledged that it was accurate that he didn’t respond to Minister O’Donovan’s comments in the Dáil. He said that he hadn’t heard them at the time.

Murphy’s complaint was not upheld, “as the statement referred only to his disregard in the Dáil of the comments by Minister of State O’Donovan”.

Appeal

The complainant then appealed against the Decision of the Press Ombudsman to the Press Council of Ireland.

The complainant submitted an appeal on the grounds that significant new information is available that could not or was not made available to the Press Ombudsman before he made his decision, and that there has been an error I the Press Ombudsman’s application of the Principles of the Code of Practice.

The Press Council considered the matter at its meeting on 3 November and decided there was insufficient evidence provided to support the appeal on either ground and that the decision of the Press Ombudsman stands.

Read: Tánaiste says she was ‘disturbed’ and ‘disappointed’ by Halligan’s comments during interview>

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