Saturday 17 March 2018

Irish Times abortion article apology was not given “due prominence” – legal expert

Dr Peter Boylan: the clinical director of the National Maternity Hospital described the breach of patient confidentiality as 'outrageous'.
Dr Peter Boylan: the clinical director of the National Maternity Hospital described the breach of patient confidentiality as 'outrageous'.
Louise Kelly

Louise Kelly

Speaking to Matt Cooper on The Last Word this afternoon, solicitor Simon McGarr maintained that the apology in relation to a contentious abortion article published on the front page of the Irish Times was inadequate in the eyes of media law.

“The Press Council of Ireland has a Code of Practice and this states that if there is a retraction a correction or a clarification that has to be published, it should be given due prominence,” said Mr McGarr, a regular reader of the Irish Times. 

“This states that an apology for a front page article should be published within the first four pages of the publication,” he added. “The question of due prominence has to be raised when [the Irish Times prints] a two paragraph cryptic statement on Page 7 of the paper.”

On August 23,  the Irish Times reported that a woman at the National Maternity Hospital at Holles Street, Dublin, had recently undergone the first termination under the provisions of new legislation, the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013.

However, the basis for publishing the article – that it was in the public interest being the first abortion to occur under the new regime – was untenable, according to Mr McGarr.

“At the time the reported event happened, the Act hadn’t been commenced – it hadn’t come into law,” he said.

Following the publication of the article, the Clinical Director of Holles St, Dr Peter Boylan, described the newspaper report as “outrageous”.

 “It is absolutely unacceptable for a patient details to be splashed around the front page of the newspaper,” he said.

Dr Boylan has said he will be carrying out in-house investigations to find out the source of the story and Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes has informed the hospital that it must submit a report if its internal investigation discovers an internal data breach.

The Irish Times subsequently published an apology for running the story. It accepted that the case described in the article did not, in fact, happen but said that it has published the article in good faith.

According to Mr McGarr of McGarr Solicitors, however, the apology did not fulfil the code as outlined by the Press Council and was disappointing for him as a newspaper reader.

“One can only be in favour of a newspaper when you can rely on it to be truthful and accurate. If it makes a mistake, the best way to demonstrate that it will remain reliable in the future is to explain that mistake so that something can be learned from it,” he said.

Matt Cooper added that the Last Word had contacted Kevin O’Sullivan’s office but the Irish Times editor was unavailable for comment.

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