Press watchdog probes less than 15% of complaints

Less than 15% of all complaints against newspapers and magazines are probed by the Press Ombudsman.

Figures show that of 575 calls to the watchdog last year, just 84 were officially processed, with 40 ruled on, and 18 of those upheld.

The Press Ombudsman, Professor John Horgan, said complaints are increasingly being resolved by conciliation with newspaper editors, with almost 30 cases settled.

“This in turn suggests, and I believe it to be the case, that our system has bedded down well, and in particular that the publications that are members of our council are continually improving their own internal systems of complaint-handling.

“I have the impression that we now see more frequent corrections and clarifications in our publications than heretofore, corrections and clarifications which have not involved any intervention by my office,” he said.

The Press Council’s annual report for 2012 showed issues with truth and accuracy accounted for more than a third of all complaints, many on the reporting of suicide, followed by prejudice (26%), fairness and honesty (13%), distinguishing fact and comment (10%), and respect for rights (8%).

The Press Ombudsman decided on a total of 40 complaints. Another eight were postponed because of court action and six were dropped.

Since its establishment five years ago, the office has received more than 2,000 complaints.

Prof Horgan said the 575 complaints received in 2012 indicate that the office gives members of the public an important outlet for their criticisms of the press — even if on reflection, many decide not to pursue the matter further.

The majority were not pursued because the complainant had just made a preliminary enquiry and not lodged a formal complaint, while 250 calls were made regarding two articles which resulted in four formal complaints.

Elsewhere, chairman of the Press Council, Dáithí O’Ceallaigh, warned the impact of new and social media cannot be ignored.

“Best professional practice in journalism is not content-specific, and that digital journalism, whether on the websites of the established print media or on digital-only websites, should fundamentally be judged by the same criteria that have been elaborated, on the basis of hard-won experience, by the print media over many decades,” he said.


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