Aine Ni Fhloinn and the Sunday Independent
The Press Ombudsman has decided to uphold a complaint by Ms Áine Ni Fhloinn that an article published in the Sunday Independent on September 9, 2012 was misleading and, in that respect, breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) of the Code of Practice for Newspapers and Magazines. He also decided that it breached Principle 5.3 (Privacy) of the Code because it did not take the feelings of the grieving family sufficiently into account.
Ms Ni Fhloinn complained that statements in the article that were based on her personal memories of her father, as expressed in her eulogy, were reported without attribution to her and in a modified form which changed their meaning.
The newspaper offered its sincere sympathy to Ms Ni Fhloinn. It said that it had never been its intention to treat her father's death in a way that could be seen as sensational or exploitative, and that its reporter had not approached any member of the family directly at the funeral itself out of respect for the feelings of family members. It also underlined what it believed was its responsibility not to sweep suicide "under the carpet", not least because the funeral took place in Suicide Prevention Week, and because suicide was a problem that was on a par, in terms of fatalities, with road deaths. After receiving the complaint, it removed the online version of the report from its website.
Reporting suicide, and the funerals of those who die by suicide, is a legitimate exercise of the public responsibility of newspapers generally. However, the rights of the newspaper in this case are insufficient to justify taking statements about the deceased from a eulogy by Ms Ni Fhloinn, failing to attribute them to her, modifying them in a way that altered their meaning, and presenting them as if they were the outcome of the newspaper's own investigations. This breach of Principle 1 also amounted to a failure to take the feelings of the grieving family sufficiently into account under Principle 5.3. The complaints under these Principles are therefore upheld.
The Press Ombudsman was unable to make a decision about one other aspect of the complaint, and another part of the complaint was not upheld.
In the absence of any persuasive evidence one way or the other, no decision could be made about a complaint under Principle 1 about an inference in the article, based on statements attributed to a number of people to whom the reporter spoke, as to why Ms Ni Fhloinn's father took his life.
Ms Ni Fhloinn also complained under Principle 5.3 about what she saw as the implications of the extensive references in the article to her late father's brother, who attended the funeral, and who was later interviewed by the reporter. While unwelcome to Ms Ni Fhloinn, there was no evidence that this aspect of the report was a breach of Principle 5.3.
November 5, 2012
The newspaper appealed the decision of the Press Ombudsman to the Press Council of Ireland.
Decision of the Press Council of Ireland:
The appeal from the newspaper was heard by the Press Council at its meeting on 7 December 2012. The Press Council decided to reject the appeal and to affirm the decision of the Press Ombudsman.