Online Journalism Increasingly Subject of Complaints to Press Ombudsman


The rapid growth of social media is a major concern for the traditional press in Ireland and worldwide, the Chairman of the Press Council of Ireland, Seán Donlon commented last week at the launch of the 2016 Annual Report of the Press Council of Ireland and Office of the Press Ombudsman.

There were 261 complaints to the Press Ombudsman in 2016, down from 278 in the previous year. The complaints related to articles published in national and local newspapers, magazines and online-only news publications. The Press Ombudsman made 23 decisions, down from 34 in 2015 and nine complaints were upheld in 2016. Four of the nine publications that had complaints upheld against them in 2016 year were online. 

The Chairman also expressed his concern that the machinery of the Ombudsman and the Council was being ignored in favour of the prospect of financial reward through the courts.

He did however welcome the ongoing review of the 2009 Defamation Act which, he said,  should result in the reduction of court awards and an increased use of the system offered by the Ombudsman and Council.

In relation to Social Media it was noted that unlike broadcasters and the press, content published there is not subject to regulation or oversight. Indeed, he noted the recent posting of a video of a young woman clearly in distress who later took her life and inaccurate reporting of suicides in Cork as examples of the inaccurate and inappropriate content.

Denis Naughten TD, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment, said that the Government is considering how best to ensure the maintenance of standards on social media and noted that the Press Council provides a suitable model.

The Press Ombudsman, Peter Feeney further noted that increasingly it is online journalism that is the subject matter of complaints. He remarked on a trend in 2016 with an increased willingness of editors to address complainants’ concerns at as early a stage as possible with on many occasions editors agreeing to publish clarifications or remove articles from online publications.  
The shift to social media as the primary source of information is both a threat and an opportunity for traditional media, he said.  A threat in relation to the deflection of advertising revenue away from print and the undermining of the business model of print and broadcast journalism and by extension how quality journalism is funded.

“But there are also opportunities as more and more people are beginning to realise that social media is frequently inaccurate, irresponsible and influenced by unseen political and commercial considerations.  If the public requires access to accurate information and informed analysis then there may well be a return to print and broadcasting where there are far more checks and balances, where traditional values of good journalism, accuracy, impartiality, depth and context are more likely to be found,” Mr Feeney said.

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