The Press Ombudsman has decided to uphold a complaint by Senator Fidelma Healy Eames about two articles published in the Irish Daily Mail on 20 and 21 August 2012. The verdict also queried the truth and accuracy of the reports concerning her trip to Africa to work with an international charity.
The front-page article about the complainant in the newspaper on 20 August 2012, dealing with a trip to Kenya she had made following a visit to Rwanda funded by the charity Voluntary Service Overseas, was headlined “How can I cover Up My Free Holiday — Extraordinary attempt by senator to hide fact that a charity (or the State ) funded Kenya trip.” The first paragraph added that she had tried to disguise “the fact that the taxpayer had footed the bill for her luxury African holiday.”
The newspaper’s enquiries were initiated after an anonymous charity worker forwarded an internal VSO email to the newspaper in which the complainant was reported as wondering if there was any paper exercise that could be done to change the funding arrangements for her visit from one unit of the charity to another in order to avoid negative press publicity. The newspaper maintained that its headline was merely a synopsis of the email.
According to the Ombudsman, the headline, however, effectively put words into the complainant’s mouth which she had not uttered, and which gave the significantly misleading impression that she had benefited inappropriately from public or charity funds. In addition, the statement in the first paragraph of the article that the taxpayer had footed the bill for her luxury African holiday was conjecture reported as fact.
“An article published the following day stated that none of the other ten politicians who went on the same volunteer programme either took a partner or had any holiday flights paid for. This was inaccurate, since the newspaper itself subsequently accepted that other political volunteers on such programmes had been accompanied by partners, friends or relatives,” said the Ombudsman Prof John Horgan.
The newspaper offered to publish a statement in its corrections and clarifications column on the bottom of page two, correcting some of the matters complained about, and apologising to the complainant and her husband. This offer was rejected by Sen Healy Eames.
In the opinion of the Press Ombudsman, the statement the newspaper offered to publish was inadequate as a resolution to the breaches of Principles 1 and 2 of the Code of Practice.
“It was inadequate because it expressed an apology without saying what it was apologising for, it cast doubt on the bona fides of the complainant in repaying the cost of private travel, and because the proffered placement of the statement at the bottom of page two failed to satisfy the requirement of Principle 1 of the Code of Practice that any such statement should be published “with due prominence.” In the circumstances, the complaints about the articles published on 20 and 21 August under Principle 1 of the Code of Practice are upheld, and the complaint about the article published on August 20 under Principle 2 of the Code is also upheld.
A complaint under Principle 4 of the Code was not upheld. The full decision can be accessed at www.pressombudsman.ie