The Irish Times And Kate Fitzgerald

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It is now six days since the Irish Times’ article about Kate Fitzgerald, who took her own life in August.

To recap. The piece did not mention her employer The Communications Clinic. It did however refer to Kate’s original article (which was available on the Irish Times website), written anonymously, where she made a number of allegations against the company.

On Monday, after we posted that Kate had worked for The Communications Clinic (alongside a July employment tribunal hearing report about a employee alleging bullying and intimidation at the company), Kate’s article which had been on the paper’s website since September 9 was edited without any explanation

The paragraphs that contained the claims against her employer were removed. In fact so clumsy was the editing it appeared that she had no issues with The Communications Clinic. Kate’s parents were not told in advance that this was happening.

Following a warning that we were facing a ‘libel landmine” (see previous post, link below) and after taking our own legal advice, we took our posts down.

On Tuesday we received an email from The Irish Times online editor Hugh Linehan which asked:

“Was wondering why you took down that post. Was pressure applied?”

We replied that we had received a late night warning and added:

“This was to be expected but [we] noticed you guys had pulled extracts from Kate’s original piece (referring to her employer) presumably on legal advice (?) and became anxious as our posts were based on that piece. [we] spoke with a barrister friend at about 1am who advised us to remove the two posts about Kate.”

We said that we had tried to get contact details for Peter Murtagh, the author of Saturday’s article, but it had been too late. Mr Linehan sent us Peter Murtagh’s phone number and email.

The conversation we had with Mr Murtagh was off the record but on Wednesday morning when, following a conversation with Kate’s parents, we published our article about the editing of Kate’s article we received an email from Peter Murtagh asking to contact him “urgently” about “refs to us [Irish Times] that are incorrect”.

He told us that the The Irish Times did not edit Kate’s article because of a threat of legal action from The Communications Clinic (as was our understanding based on our conversation) but on legal advice from the paper’s own lawyer(s).

When we asked Mr Murtagh if the Irish Times had acted solely on its own volition he said that The Communications Clinic had been in touch “with the paper” and had “registered its unhappiness” about the allegations contained in Kate’s original article.

Much about this story doesn’t make sense but this sounded especially odd as the paper regularly offers a right of reply to people who feel they have been misrepresented.

Also, to have edited an article that had been the author’s last words – described by her mother as Kate’s “suicide note” – on the basis of someone’s “unhappiness” as opposed to a substantial legal threat simply beggared belief.

However, we amended our post to reflect the clarification from Mr Murtagh.

What we know is that Kate wrote an anonymous article about attitudes by employers towards people with depression. That she was dead before that article was published in The Irish Times. We know that Peter Murtagh was contacted by Kate’s father Tom Fitzgerald, who confirmed his daughter was the author.

And that her article alleged wrongdoing at The Communications Clinic, a company that a month earlier had faced accusations of bullying and intimidation by another young worker.

And then. Nothing.

If this had happened in a local branch of Tesco you might expect a newspaper such as the Irish Times, would investigate.

It is very possible that Mr Murtagh, in his article on Saturday – three months after Kate’s death – included her claims about the difficulties at her workplace in his article and it was removed on legal advice during the subbing process.

But if there were concerns why did Kate’s article, in its original form with the allegations, remain on the paper’s website site until Monday before it was, in her mother’s words, “butchered”?

We know from talking with Kate’s parents that Mr Murtagh has acted in their interest and has helped to raise the issues surrounding depression and mental illness that she attempted to put into the public domain. We do not know Mr Murtagh. But he is known as a journalist of the highest integrity and in a tough, often unpleasant industry, is extremely popular and respected.

On Wednesday night we were told and it has since been confirmed to us that Peter Murtagh has had a professional relationship going back more than 25 years with Terry Prone, owner of The Communications Clinic. We were surprised that Mr Murtagh had not told us about this. Particularly as we had spoken candidly with him of our fears (real or imagined) and those of Kate’s mother about the influence and reach of The Communications Cinic within political and media circles in Ireland and that we had mentioned Terry Prone by name.

But we also realise that many journalists on most national newspapers know Ms Prone. It would be perhaps more unusual if Mr Murtagh did not know Terry Prone. We also understand that the Communications Clinic was unaware that Saturday’s article about Kate was about to appear.

But it is a question of transparency or, as media training consultants call it, the ‘optics’. Mr Murtagh wrote in some detail about Kate’s working life. The article did not mention her time at the Communications Clinic. Peter Murtagh is a friend of one of the owners of that company. Perhaps it should have been left to another journalist to cover that important area of Kate’s life? We asked Mr Murtagh yesterday morning on the record about Ms Prone but he said he did not wish to speak to us anymore.

The Irish Times is a newspaper with a record of demanding extremely high standards from others. Certainly standards this website regularly fails to reach.

This was Kate Kitzgerald’s version of Kate Fitzgerald’s life and it was altered and revised by the paper that she went to for help.

Why?

Previously: Kate Fitzgerald