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Saturday 10 December 2016

Sullivan and the 'Sunday Independent'

Published 23/10/2011 | 05:00

The Press Ombudsman has decided to uphold a complaint by Ms Jerrie Ann Sullivan that an article in the Sunday Independent on June 19, 2011 about events at Shell to Sea protests in County Mayo was a breach of Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) of the Code of Practice for Newspapers and Magazines because it associated a protest in which she was involved with events that took place on another, later, occasion in a manner that could reasonably be considered as significantly misleading. He also decided that as there was no verifiable evidence to corroborate a statement reported as fact in the headline, the article was in this respect also in breach of Principle 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment) of the Code.

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A complaint about the article under Principle 4 (Respect for Rights) was not upheld.

Ms Sullivan complained under Principle 1 that the article was significantly misleading because it associated the incident depicted on a videotape to which it referred with another incident (of which a videotape also existed) involving the complainant and another woman. She provided persuasive evidence that the videotape referred to in the article was a recording made on the occasion of a different event, on a later date, and involving different people.

She said the video referred to in the article was not made on the occasion on which she had been arrested (March 31, 2011) and in relation to which gardai were being investigated over alleged "rape" comments.

The newspaper claimed that the central premise of the article was the fact that a second videotape was being examined by the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) as part of its investigation. It also maintained that the second recording was accurately reflected in the article and was corroborated by an unidentified Detective Garda who was interviewed by the GSOC in the course of its inquiry.

The fact that a second videotape recording may be in the process of being examined by the GSOC in relation to a Shell to Sea protest is not in dispute.

However, the newspaper, in its response to the complaint, repeated its evidently mistaken impression that this second videotape, referred to in the first part of its article, is also the recording mentioned in paragraph 10 of the GSOC Interim Report.

This is clearly a mis-reading of the Report. In this context, the article's association of this tape with the events that took place on an earlier occasion, together with the failure to report the fact that it had been recorded on a later date and involved different protesters, was significantly misleading. The complaint under Principle 1 of the Code of Practice is therefore upheld.

The headline to the article read "'Rape' claims were hurled at gardai by protesters". This statement was reported as fact.

However, the only attribution adduced to support it by the newspaper were anonymous Garda sources and the videotape mentioned. The videotape was viewed by the Press Ombudsman, but the sound is distorted and it is impossible to distinguish any voices or words from it.

In these circumstances, the statement in the headline was clearly a rumour or an unconfirmed report and reporting it as fact was a breach of Principle 2 of the Code.

The complaint about the article under Principle 4 of the Code of Practice is not upheld, as there is insufficient evidence that the newspaper did not take reasonable care in checking facts before publication and no evidence that the matter involved was knowingly published based on malicious misrepresentation or unfounded accusations, as would be required to support a complaint under this Principle.

Sunday Independent

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