Mr Brian Gallagher and the Sunday Independent
The Press Ombudsman has decided not to uphold a complaint by Mr Brian Gallagher, a partner in the legal firm of Gallagher Shatter, that an article published in the Sunday Independent on February 17, 2013, was in breach of Principles 1.1 (Truth and Accuracy) and 3.1 (Fairness and Honesty) of the Code of Practice for Newspapers and Magazines.
Mr Gallagher complained on behalf of his firm that the headline to the article entitled 'HSE paid Shatter's former firm €100,000' was a breach of the Code of Practice because the figure quoted in the body of the article was €96,393, and because the actual figure was closer to €64,000 after tax. He also complained that the headline was unbalanced and unfair in that his firm had been singled out, and that by implication it suggested that it had received fees from the HSE because a former partner is the present Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence. He complained further that the article also implied that the firm had wrongfully profited – for the same reason – from acting for Guardians ad litem representing children.
The newspaper responded that the headline should be read in the context of the first paragraph of the article, which read the firm was paid "almost €100,000...". It rejected the complainant's contention that the article implied that his firm received fees from the HSE because a former partner was now a cabinet minister. It also rejected the contention that the article implied that the firm had wrongly profited from acting as Guardians ad litem.
Publishing a figure of €100,000 in the headline, when the gross figure was actually slightly smaller at €96,393, was, in the opinion of the Press Ombudsman, a journalistic rounding-up which, although it may have added marginally to the impact of the story, was not a significant inaccuracy. Further, as taxpayers' liabilities are private as between them and the Revenue Commissioners, the newspaper was neither entitled nor obliged to ascertain the net figure of the monies received by the complainant's firm.
A decision to highlight the identity of, or contextual matter about, any particular recipient of public monies is, broadly speaking, a matter of legitimate editorial discretion about the newsworthiness of particular facts, provided that it does not otherwise present a breach of the Code of Practice.
Evidence submitted by Mr Gallagher in support of his complaint included print-outs from comments made by some Facebook contributors that were critical of the payments made to his firm and implied an improper motivation for them. However, the article made clear that the firm's former partner had ceased all active engagement with the complainant's firm on his appointment as minister.
In all of these circumstances, there was insufficient evidence to justify a decision that the article concerned was in breach of Principle 1.1 or Principle 3.1 of the Code of Practice.
The complainant appealed the decision of the Press Ombudsman to the Press Council of Ireland.
Decision of the Press Council of Ireland
The appeal from the complainant was heard by the Press Council at its meeting on May 27, 2013. The Press Council decided to reject the appeal and to affirm the decision of the Press Ombudsman.