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Correspondence in Press Ombudsman Complaint with The Sunday Independent

Letter from the Press Ombudsman on the 29th October 2010

The Press Ombudsman has decided not to uphold a complaint made by Mr Eoin O Leidhin, on behalf of the Rossport Solidarity Camp, that an article published in the Sunday Independent on July 25, 2010, entitled "Polish 'anarchist' linked to Corrib gas pipeline protest" breached Principle 1 (truth and accuracy) and Principle 2 (distinguishing fact and comment) of the Code of Practice for Newspapers and Magazines.
Mr O Leidhin complained that statements in the article about an individual were inaccurate. These included statements that the individual in question (who was not named or physically described) had been present at a protest camp on several occasions over a period of months and that the same unnamed individual was "emerging as one of the key organisers in the protest".
It is notably difficult to prove a negative, particularly in relation to statements about an unnamed individual, and in this case, the complainant did not provide persuasive evidence to rebut the newspaper's report.
In the circumstances, the references in the article to the unnamed individual did not breach the Code of Practice.
A number of other statements in the article about which Mr O Leidhin complained were either conjecture, rumour or unconfirmed reports and therefore did not present a breach of the Code of Practice.
Mr O Leidhin also complained about a statement in the article relating to the reason for delays affecting the project, which he said was misleading.
However, as he did not supply any definitive evidence that the reason for the delays was a different one from the reason stated in the article, and as the Press Ombudsman's functions do not extend to making a determination on the causes of complex events which are the subject of unresolved controversies involving many different parties, this part of the complaint is not upheld.
As the evidence offered by both parties about the accuracy of a statement in the article, that the Corrib field would supply 60 per cent of Ireland's gas needs was inconclusive, the Press Ombudsman was unable to decide on a complaint that it was inaccurate.
The newspaper, shortly after the article appeared, published a letter from the Shell to Sea Campaign, criticising the article. Although this was not a response to Mr O Leidhin's complaint, the newspaper was entitled to, and did, advance it as reasonable evidence that it had already taken note of criticisms, by people associated with the Corrib protests, of the article in question.

 


---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: John Horgan <john.horgan@pressombudsman.ie>
Date: 29 October 2010 12:02
Subject: Your complaint
To: rossportsolidaritycamp@gmail.com
 
Dear Mr O Leidhin
 
I am currently in the process of making a decision on your complaint and will be in a position to communicate this to you within the next few days.  However, I note that in her email to you of 27 October last my Case Officer advised you that I would be considering your complaint under Principles 1, 2, 3 and 8, which were the original Principles under which you lodged your complaint.  This was an error, since by email  dated 8 September last – copy attached for ease of reference – you were advised that there was  no prima facie evidence that the article breached Principles 3 or 8, and that your complaint would therefore be considered under Principles 1 and 2.  I am now considering your complaint under these Principles.
 
Please accept my apologies for any confusion caused.
 
Yours etc.
Professor John Horgan
Press Ombudsman
 
Office of the Press Ombudsman
1, 2 & 3 Westmoreland Street
Dublin 2
 


---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Bernie Grogan
Date: 27 October 2010 16:49
Subject:
To: rossport solidarity camp <rossportsolidaritycamp@gmail.com>

Dear Mr O Leidhin
Further to our previous correspondence about your complaint in relation to an article published in the Sunday Independent on 25 July last, I wish to apologize for the further delay in the Press Ombudsman’s consideration of your complaint, which is due to a large volume of complaints that accumulated during his absence from the office on annual leave.  The Press Ombudsman is now considering your complaint and hopes to be in a position to communicate his decision to you within the next few days.
In that regard, the Press Ombudsman has noted from your file that in your email to me dated 1 October last, wherein you advised that you remained dissatisfied with the newspaper’s response to your complaint, you raised a matter towards the end of that email relating to what you describe as a “clear violation of Principle 4 – Respect for Rights”.   A complaint under Principle 4 was not made by you directly to the newspaper, or in previous correspondence with this Office.  For that reason,  I must advise that it will not be possible for the Press Ombudsman to consider this part of your complaint in his decision.  He will, of course, consider those parts of your complaint made under Principles 1, 2, 3 and 8
As I have said above, the Press Ombudsman will be in touch with you very shortly about your complaint.
Yours sincerely
 
Bernie Grogan
 
Case Officer
Office of the Press Ombudsman
1, 2 & 3 Westmoreland Street
Dublin 2 


 
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Bernie Grogan
Date: 5 October 2010 15:39
Subject: Article published in the Sunday Independent on 25 July 2010
To: rossport solidarity camp <rossportsolidaritycamp@gmail.com>
 
Dear Mr O Leidhin
 
Further to our recent correspondence in relation to your complaint about an article published in the Sunday Independent on 25 July last, as it has not been possible to resolve the matter by conciliation, your complaint will shortly be referred to the Press Ombudsman for consideration.  The Press Ombudsman will examine all of the material in the case in the light of the Code of Practice and make a decision.  He also has the discretion to refer certain cases to the Press Council of Ireland and if he decides to do this he will let you know.
 
The Press Ombudsman is currently away from the Office on annual leave and your complaint will be referred to him on his return on Monday next, October 11.   He will communicate directly with you and with the publication as soon as he has made a decision on your complaint, which should be within about ten working days  of  his return to the Office.
 
It is our intention to publish decisions on our website and in published reports and the newspaper must, if the complaint is upheld, publish the decision in relation to any part of the complaint that is upheld.    The decision will include the essential details of the complaint, including your name and the name of the publication.   I should be grateful if you would let this Office know immediately if you have any concerns about your name being published in this manner.
 
In accordance with our general procedures, all information in relation to the matter must remain confidential until after the complaint has been processed.
 
Yours sincerely 
Bernie Grogan
Case Officer
Office of the Press Ombudsman
1, 2 & 3 Westmoreland Street
Dublin 2 
 


 
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: rossport solidarity camp <rossportsolidaritycamp@gmail.com>
Date: 1 October 2010 18:51
Subject: Reply back to Mr Kealy's email
To: Bernie Grogan

Dear Bernie,
 
Again apologies for the delay in getting back to you.
 
We remain dissatisfied with the responses we have received regarding our complaint about the article.  Unfortunately Mr Kealy has failed to clarify our original questions for Mr Cusack
 
1.Where he received this incorrect information from?
2. Name the individual he claims is a key organiser of the campaign.
3. Provide details of when this individual is supposed to have visited the camp
4. Offer details on the organising this individual has done in the protests against the Corrib gas pipeline.
 
Here are our responses to Willie Kealy's email:
 
 
1. Jim Cusack’s story published in some editions of the Sunday Independent on July 25 contains no comment whatsoever. It contains facts only.
 
This is untrue. For example take the sentence with the lines ''it is hoped that the project is now in its final stages” or that the arrival of anarchists “appears to be a series of throwback to the Cold War era”.  These are Jim Cusack's opinion and are certainly not facts or quotes. This is therefore in breach of Principle 2 − Distinguishing Fact and Comment.
  
 
2.There are four different protest groups involved in the Shell issue of which Mr Leidhin’s is the Rossport Solidarity Camp. The others are Shell to Sea, An Pobail Cill Chomain and Pobail Lecheile.
 
None of these four groups have any knowledge of this person so how can they possibly be a key organiser? Statements such as he ''is emerging as one of the key organisers in the protest against the Corrib gas pipeline'' is therefore a clear breach of Principle 1-Truth and Accuracy. 
 
Most of the article is breaching this code, but specifically the points below: ''suspected of using encrypted messaging'' What on earth is the proof for this?
  
''He has visited the protest camp in Rossport, Co Mayo, on at least two occasions in February and March, and is believed to have been there a number of times since. '' Again, entirely unfounded. Where is the evidence for this?
 
''After more than a decade of delays mainly due to environmental inquiries, the project faces still further delays with the prospect of yet another public oral hearing this autumn.'' This is entirely misleading as An Bord Pleanala refused planning permission on serious health and safety risks. The delays are because Shell has failed to make the project safe.
 
3. We have seen confidential security reports describing in detail the activities of the person referred to by Jim Cusack internationally and in relation to his visits to Ireland.
 
Who is supplying this information to Jim Cusack?   Are these confidential Garda reports or are they Shell or IRMS security reports?
 
4. We have also seen his own tweets in which he gives daily updates of his activities while here.
 
If this person is tweeting then it is available to the public.  Can we be told where we might find these tweets on his activities?
 
5. We did not identify the person in question because we felt that that could have put him in danger given that the site has also been visited by some unsavoury right wing types who are, unlike the Polish visitor, opposed to the protests  – including Hungarian neo-fascists who were here two years ago. We reported that at the time too.
 
Surely if it actually being claimed that person is “one of the key organisers in the protest against the Corrib gas pipeline” that we (as one of the protest groups) should have a right to know who is being referred to as a key organiser.  
 
6. Given that we did not give any information in relation to physical description, I do not see how Mr Leidhin  can definitively say this person was never there unless he is working from his own preconceived notion of what a Polish anarchist might look and sound like.
 
We live in a close knit rural community, none of the four groups have any knowledge of this person. The Rossport Solidarity Camp is a small group of people who live here full time. It is our home and so we are fully aware of all visitors who come to stay.  I therefore can definitely state that there was no one on camp during Feb and March 2010 who matches the description given.
 
 
7. Neither the Sunday Independent nor Jim Cusack has any difficulty with legitimate criticism of Mr Cusack’s reports. In fact on August 8 last we carried in full and without comment a lengthy letter from Maura Harrington and Terence Conway of the Shell to Sea Group, in which they criticised “sensational allegations emanating from anonymous sources about alleged visits by unnamed individuals to the Rossport solidarity camp.”  This was in response to the article that Mr Leidhin complains about.
 
It is not sufficient to just print a letter rather than issue a full apology and retract the article.
 
8. With regard to Mr Leidhin’s point about the contention that gas from the Corrib will supply 60 per cent of the Irish market, this has been stated publicly on a number of occasions by Gareth Blaney of the Energy Regulation Commission, first at the original oral hearing and again at the current oral hearing. Mr Leidhin says this has been proven to be incorrect. He does not say how or by whom this was done. I am sure it has been challenged, but we are not aware of any proof to the contrary.
 
 I do not believe Mr. Kealy has been attending the current oral Hearing. If Mr Kealy had attended he would know that Shell have been unable to guarantee that Corrib will supply up to 60% of Irish gas needs.  Shell stated that it would break EU law to give such an undertaking.  Mr Garrett Blaney of the CER did give evidence at the current oral hearing and was questioned specifically on where the 60% figure came from.  He didn’t make the claim that Corrib would supply 60% of the Irish market and he also didn’t know where that figure is coming from.

 
 
We believe the article sought to smear the good name of the people at the Rossport Solidarity Camp and our Polish visitors who are completely unconnected to the allegations. This is a clear violation of Principle 4- Respect for Rights: Everyone has constitutional protection for his or her good name. Newspapers and periodicals shall not knowingly publish matter based on malicious misrepresentation or unfounded accusations, and must take reasonable care in checking facts before publication.
In yesterday’s Irish Times, the local parish priest Fr. Nallen is quoted as saying in his submission to the current oral hearing that certain “media outlets . . . connected to the oil industry have blocked access to the means of expression for those who have genuine reasons to be concerned about the impact of the project”.  (See http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2010/0930/1224279988037.html). I think that it can be taken as given that Fr Nallen is referring to the INM group.
 
In conclusion the whole article is based on a fundamental untruth and thus wholly inaccurate.
  
I request answers to be earlier questions, a full apology and retraction of the article.
 
Yours sincerely,
 
Eoin O Leidhin
On behalf of the Rossport Solidarity Camp
 
 
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Bernie Grogan <bernie.grogan@pressombudsman.ie>
Date: 16 September 2010 16:30
Subject:
To: rossport solidarity camp <rossportsolidaritycamp@gmail.com>
Dear Mr O Leidhin
Further to our recent correspondence in relation to your complaint about an article published in the  Sunday Independent on  25 July last, please see below a response to your complaint that has been received from the Deputy Editor of the Sunday Independent, Mr Willie Kealy.
 
I should be very grateful for your observations on Mr Kealy’s response.    If you remain dissatisfied, your complaint will be referred to the Press Ombudsman for his consideration and decision as to whether or not the article breached the Code of Practice for Newspapers and Periodicals.
 
I look forward to hearing from you.  I will be away from the Office from close of business today until Tuesday next, but my emails will be accessed in my absence.
 
Please feel free to ring me at 01-6489133 should you wish to discuss the matter with me.
 
Yours sincerely
 
Bernie Grogan 
Case Officer
Office of the Press Ombudsman
 
1, 2 & 3 Westmoreland Street
Dublin 2 

From: Willie Kealy [mailto:wkealy@independent.ie]
Sent: 16 September 2010 12:09
To: Bernie Grogan
Subject: FW: Bernie Grogan letter

Dear Bernie,
 
I have just returned from holidays and am only now in a position to reply to Mr Leidhin’s complaint to your Office about Jim Cusack’s July 25 article.

I note that your require me to deal only with the matters of “truth and accuracy,” and “distinguishing fact and comment.”

In that context I would make the following observations.

1..Jim Cusack’s story published in some editions of the Sunday Independent on July 25 contains no comment whatsoever. It contains facts only.
2..There are four different protest groups involved in the Shell issue of which Mr Leidhin’s is the Rossport Solidarity Camp. The others are Shell to Sea, An Pobail Cill Chomain and Pobail Lecheile.
3…We have seen confidential security reports describing in detail the activities of the person referred to by Jim Cusack  internationally and in relation to his visits to Ireland.
4…We have also seen his own tweets in which he gives daily updates of his activities while here.
5..We did not identify the person in question because we felt that that could have put him in danger given that the site has also been visited by some unsavoury right wing types who are, unlike the Polish visitor, opposed to the protests  – including Hungarian neo-fascists who were here two years ago. We reported that at the time too.
6…Given that we did not give any information in relation to physical description, I do not see how Mr Leidhin  can definitively say this person was never there unless he is working from his own preconceived notion of what a Polish anarchist might look and sound like. .
7…Neither the Sunday Independent nor Jim Cusack has any difficulty with legitimate criticism of Mr Cusack’s reports. In fact on August 8 last we carried in full and without comment a lengthy letter from Maura Harrington and Terence Conway of the Shell to Sea Group, in which they criticised “sensational allegations emanating from anonymous sources about alleged visits by unnamed individuals to the Rossport solidarity camp.”  This was in response to the article that Mr Leidhin complains about.
8. With regard to Mr Leidhin’s point about the contention that gas from the Corrib will supply 60 per cent of the Irish market, this has been stated publicly on a number of occasions by Gareth Blaney of the Energy Regulation Commission, first at the original oral hearing and again at the current oral hearing. Mr Leidhin says this has been proven to be incorrect. He does not say how or by whom this was done. I am sure it has been challenged, but we are not aware of any proof to the contrary.
Nevertheless when a similar point to that raised by Mr Leidhin was made in the Harrington/Conway letter, we published it in full (without comment, as already stated) as follows: “Of further concern is the government’s refusal to re-negotiate the current deal with oil companies. All oil and gas production is exempted from royalty payments and oil companies further benefit from a 100 per cent tax write off against profits on capital expenditure, paying just 25 per cent on declared profits. As a country we stand to make a pittance from our vast oil and gas resources. The refusal of the government to re-negotiate this most generous of deals in the current economic climate beggars belief. In addition, contrary to Mr Cusack’s assertion regarding security of supply, Shell is not obliged to supply the domestic market with the gas from Corrib,  indeed we will have to buy the gas back from Shell at full market price.”
   
In the circumstances I would contend that Mr Leidhin’s complaint should not be upheld by the Ombudsman.

If you have any comments or observations on this reply I would be glad to discuss them with you formally or informally.

Yours sincerely,
 
 
Willie Kealy,
deputy Editor.


 
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Bernie Grogan <bernie.grogan@pressombudsman.ie>
Date: 8 September 2010 15:00
Subject:
To: rossport solidarity camp <rossportsolidaritycamp@gmail.com>
 
 
Dear Mr O Leidhin
 
Thank you again for your email of today’s date.
 
I am attaching an information booklet which explains how the Office of the Press Ombudsman works.   For a complaint to be examined by this Office the matter complained of must come within the remit of the Code of Practice for Newspapers and Periodicals, which is outlined on pages five to seven of the enclosed  booklet, and the article must present prima facie evidence of a breach of the Code.
 
 
Having carefully considered the complaint that you have submitted, this Office can find no prima facie evidence that the article in question presented a breach of Principle 3 or 8 of the Code of Practice for Newspapers and Periodicals.  However, your complaint under Principles 1 and 2 of the Code are now being considered.   In dealing with your complaint, the first step this Office will take will be to establish whether there is any reasonable compromise that can be arranged that satisfies both you and the editor.  If this does not prove possible, the matter will then be referred to the Press Ombudsman for consideration.
  
I am now contacting the editor of the Sunday Independent and I will contact you again as soon as I have anything to report
 
Yours sincerely
 
Bernie Grogan
 
Case Officer
Office of the Press Ombudsman
1, 2 & 3 Westmoreland Street
Dublin 2
 
 
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: rossport solidarity camp <rossportsolidaritycamp@gmail.com>
Date: 5 September 2010 18:24
Subject: Complaint against Jim Cussack article
To: info@pressombudsman.ie

 
Rossport Solidarity Camp,
Rossport Solidarity House,
Barr na Coilleadh,
Pollathomais,
Ballina,
Mayo
05/09/10
 
Dear Sir or Madam,
I wish to make a complaint regarding Jim Cusack's article in the Sunday Independent on the 25th July 2010, entitled “Polish 'anarchist' linked to Corrib gas pipeline protest”.
 
http://www.independent.ie/national-news/polish-anarchist-linked-to-corri...
In his article Mr Cusack claims that an unnamed Polish person, who spent 10 years in jail visited the protest camp on at least 2 occasions in February and March. I can categorically state that this is untrue. There was no person who fitted this description at the camp during these times.
Also when Mr Cusack claims that this unnamed individual is “one of the key organisers in the protest against the Corrib gas pipeline”. This is again a complete lie. No one in our community campaign has any idea who this person is.
For Mr Cusack to write such a misleading and downright false article regarding this long-running successful community campaign is very worrying. That he would write such a sensationalist article on the campaign without once naming any group or individual and instead relying on unnamed sources indicates to me that he knows the thin ice that he is on.
Mr Cusack also throws in some Shell and other oil and gas company propaganda by claiming “Gas from Corrib will supply up to 60 per cent of Ireland's gas needs”. This has been proved to be incorrect and is yet another example of lazy journalism.
It is no coincidence that Mr Cusack writes in a newspaper whose biggest shareholder is Tony O'Reilly. O'Reilly is one of the biggest shareholders in Providence Resources who own vast oil & gas exploration rights off the coast of Ireland. Mr Cusack has simply written a one sided, unsubstantiated sensationalist propaganda piece.
I would ask Mr Cusack to explain the following:
1.Where he received this incorrect information from?
2. Name the individual he claims is a key organiser of the campaign.
3. Provide details of when this individual is supposed to have visited the camp
4. Offer details on the organising this individual has done in the protests against the Corrib gas pipeline.
5. Provide proof that the Corrib gas pipeline will supply up to 60 per cent of Ireland's gas needs.
I believe the article is in breach of the following Press Ombudsman codes of practice:
 
Principle 1 − Truth and Accuracy
 
Principle 2 − Distinguishing Fact and Comment
 
Principle 3 − Fairness and Honesty
 
Principle 8 − Prejudice
 
I ask that a retraction of the article be published, stating that Mr Cusack had misinformed the public regarding this unnamed individual's involvement in the Corrib protests. We wrote a letter of complaint directly to the editor of the Sunday Independent on 18.08.10 but have not received a reply.

I would appreciate your immediate attention to this matter.

Yours faithfully,
Eoin O Leidhin
on behalf of the Rossport Solidarity Camp