Kate Fitzgerald And The Irish Times’ Apology To The Communications Clinic: The Press Council Decision

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The Press Council decision, released to Tom and Sally Fitzgerald today, which found in their favour.

The matters relate only to the apology given by the Irish Times to The Communications Clinic on December 3, 2011.

The Press Ombudsman, Professor John Horgan, refused to investigate seven matters (see below) relating to the parents’ belief that the apology had labelled Kate a liar.

The denial was made because it concerned Kate’s original article of September 9 which was published beyond the three-month time limit allowed by The Press Council for complaints.

Tom and Sally Fitzgerald regard this refusal as “completely illogical”.

This was the initial complaint by Tom and Sally to the Press Council:

We assert the actions taken by the Irish Times violate the Code of Practice as specified in the following principals:
1.1 False allegation
1.2 Failure to retract
1.3 Failure to apologize or clarify
2.2 Printing conjecture as fact
2.3 Conflict of interest due to overwhelming influence of TCC
3.1 Failure to apply a standard of fairness equally
Principle 4 in its entirety.  The IT ignored Kate’s good name and effectively called her a liar with no foundation.
5.3 The IT was entirely unsympathetic and unfeeling in its dealings with Kate’s family, effectively calling her a liar and refusing to explain why they did so or retracting the statement.
The last article of Kate Fitzgerald’s life was published posthumously and anonymously by the Irish Times on 9 September, 2012.  This opinion piece outlined her treatment at her workplace to her recent hospitalisation for depression. It was a heartfelt plea for understanding and compassion for anyone experiencing depression and hospitalization.  In the article, Kate did not identify her employer.  
On discovering that he was the last person to whom Kate had spoken before taking her own life, IT [journalist] Peter Murtagh worked with Kate’s family to write a memorable feature on Kate’s life and death, thereby identifying the author to the public. Published in the IT on 26 November, it became one of the most read articles of the IT in 2011.  Web-based readers deduced that the employer was The Communications Clinic (TCC) leading to an online storm of protest about the behaviour of TCC.  Notwithstanding that the paper had not identified them, TCC complained to the IT, who quickly edited the online article and later deleted it from the IT archives.
On December 3, the day of Kate’s memorial service at DCU, (Pri 5.3) the Irish Times published an apology to TCC alleging that some of what Kate had written was “not factual”. Kate’s family asked the IT to tell them what in the article was “not factual”, but despite two meetings with Kate’s parents, Irish Times editor, Kevin O’Sullivan could not produce a single example of a non-truth. (Pr 1.1) Nonetheless, he refused to either apologize or retract his allegation. (Pr 1.2 & 1.3)
The IT supplied no evidence that what Kate had written was non-factual.(Pr 2.2) Their apology to TCC represents capitulation to an influential group of people (Pri 2.3). In stark comparison to the huge influence of TCC who have influence over political parties, RTE, and the Catholic Church, Kate Fitzgerald is dead and cannot defend her words. (Pr 3.1).
Kate wrote an opinion piece in good faith and submitted it to a paper she believed to be ethical.  Based on our conversations with Kate in weeks prior to her death, and discussions with other employees of TCC, we have every reason to believe her article.  By branding her last words as “non-factual”, the IT violated the entirety of principle 4, and as the “Paper of Record” for Ireland, they diminished the stature of Irish journalism.  We appeal to the Ombudsman to set this right.

And this is the response from the Press Council.

Dear Mr and Mrs Fitzgerald.
This Office has now carefully considered all of the correspondence that you submitted in relation to your wish to make a complaint about the apology published by The Irish Times on 3 December last.
I note that your complaint about the apology published on 3 December centres around the fact that the apology alleged that   “significant assertions”   in the article by your late daughter Kate, published on 9 September,  were  “not factual”.
I very much regret that this Office has a difficulty in considering part of your complaint, because the original article, to which the apology relates,  was published on 9 September last. Section 24.1 (a) of the Memorandum and Articles of  Association of the Press Council of Ireland state that this Office can consider a complaint  only “if it concerns a matter that has been published within the past three months”.    As this provision is contained in the Memorandum and Articles of Association establishing this Office and the Press Council itself, this Office has no leeway in the matter.  In these circumstances, I  regret that the issue of the  factuality or otherwise of the article published on 9 September cannot be considered by this Office as the article concerned is out of date.   For this reason, a complaint about the elements of the apology under Principles 1, 2, 3  and 4 of the Code of Practice for Newspapers and Magazines are out of time.
I very much regret that this is the situation.  However, this Office is not precluded from considering your complaint about the apology published on 3 December under Principle 5.3 of the Code of Practice, insofar as this would not involve any consideration of the original article.  Principle 5.3 of the Code states:
“Sympathy and discretion must be shown at all times in seeking information in situations of personal grief or shock.  In publishing such information, the feelings
of grieving families should be taken into account.  This should not be interpreted as restricting the right to report judicial proceedings.”
If it is acceptable to you for this Office to proceed with a complaint under Principle 5.3 of the Code, we will contact the editor of The Irish Times with a view to resolving your complaint speedily and effectively through our conciliation process.   If it is not possible to resolve the matter through our conciliation process, your complaint will be referred to the Press Ombudsman for his consideration. I look forward to hearing from you. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you would like to discuss the matter with me.

Yours sincerely,
Bernie Grogan
Case Officer
Office of the Press Ombudsman

58 thoughts on “Kate Fitzgerald And The Irish Times’ Apology To The Communications Clinic: The Press Council Decision

  1. paul

    Press Ombudsman. About as useful as the Garda Ombudsman without the leaks, threats and subterfuge.

    I hope the family gets some solace from all the people wishing them well through this.

    1. paul

      By the way – and you can delete this comment of course – it’s interesting that Tom Savage brought in an ‘independent person’ to advise him on the practices and approaches of the current affairs team at RTE following the ‘Mission to Prey’ revelations.

      Guess who the external independent adviser was?

      Professor John Horgan, the Press Ombudsman

      1. Our woman in Gaza

        Some people wouldn’t know a conflict of interest if it jumped up and bit them on the ass.

        1. ffintii

          Tom Savage is an ex-priest. The PR spin was disgusting after the libel settlement, your comment about John Horgan is depressing.

          They are more powerful than Mossad/CIA, our corrupt elites.

      2. woesinger

        In fairness, it’s not clear whether Savage or Noel Curran, the Director General, asked for Horgan’s report. And as both that case and this involve an investigation of journalistic practice, it’s not surprising to see the man who investigates journalistic practices have a hand in both.

        I’m not trying to defend TCC in any way, or denying that the Irish media is too cosy a field for its own good, but if there’s fingers to be pointed, it’s best they’re pointed where the actual wrongdoing lies.

  2. Tommygun

    Rules are rules, and wishing or pleading for a group to apply some rules and ignore others is not right and I am glad emotion did not sway. Believe me, I am appalled at the Irish Times and TCC, but I can see how non legal types will rail against this while being happy that other rules were applied.

    Kate deserves better justice, and I hope one day someone researches everything and everyone involved and writes a wonderful book or article on how the incestous mix of politics and media resulted in the messed up situation the country finds itself in, and partially resulted in the death of a sweet girl.

    1. Pedanto

      No, no, no. The mix of politics and business did NOT result in Kate’s suicide. That is a weird and unfair claim, and I hope it’s a slip of the keyboard. You can not just recruit somebody’s suicide into your political views like that. It’s wrong.

      1. SDaedalus

        I don’t know what caused Kate’s death, but the way in which her family has been treated after her death is a matter of public record.

        That decision above doesn’t even make sense. Neither of them.

      2. Tommygun

        Fair point Pedanto, I do not know enough of the situation to make that claim. It was not, however, my political view that brought me to that point, rather the fact that the original articles discussed how a young lady did not find solace or understanding with her employer for her situation, wrote about it, found out it was to be published, and then took her own life. I guess I was trying to say that something rotten in the state of Denmark was partially responsible for Ophelia, even if one would be absurd to say it was a direct cause.

    2. SDaedalus

      and definitely resulted in her family being treated badly after her death.

      Nothing illustrates ‘different strokes for different folks’ more than the Kate Fitzgerald saga.

      And she could be any one of us: our sons and daughters, our parents, ourselves. The same thing would apply.

    3. alfla

      I can understand the “rules is rules” approach, but in this case it seems somewhat illogical.

      The apology only held sufficient impact and wrong-doing because of the earlier article – so the two are tied.

      It’s like if I wrote an article stating that you are definitely NOT a murderer in January, and retracted it in April – the original piece is so tied to it that it shouldn’t be ignored as part of due process.

      I know how you feel about rules needing to be applied, but I don’t think this is one of those situations. Kate’s article in September wasn’t the problem, and neither was the apology in isolation – it was the combination of both. And therefore it should stand outside the standard three-month rule.

      1. woesinger

        More to the point, the retraction of the article happened in November and that’s when the claim that the September article was factually incorrect was made. So using the September article as an excuse to wash their hands of the situation is an act of deliberate spinelessness by the Ombudsman.

        If this three month “statute of limitations” isn’t a self-imposed rule of convenience to allow the Press Ombudsman to brush inconvenient cases under the carpet, then it’s odd how closely it resembles just that. Almost as odd as the resemblance between the Press Ombudsman and a paper tiger.

        1. Paul Q

          Agreed. This was a (self-serving?) interpretation that limited the ombudsman’s role and kept him out of the fight. Reality is, the factual dispute could not be resolved without going more than 3 months back in time. But because a newspaper article more than 3 months old is relevant to the (more recent) factual dispute, we refuse to consider the factual dispute at all. Silly. It’s not that “the law’s an ass” – that interpretation’s an ass.

      2. SDaedalus

        I absolutely agree, Alfla, and so well put.

        My point was that the rules weren’t being applied properly when it came to Kate, for some reason everyone seems to depart from normal sensible behaviour where this is concerned, both the IT and now the Press Council.

        Bizarre.

  3. Zynks

    While in sports there is a term called “unsporting behaviour” that derives penalties, in business there seems to be nothing to tackle ethical issues – however, the borderline between ethics and illegal behaviour sometimes is crossed just enough to allow for appropriate sanctions, provided the system is fair, honest and transparent.
    I live and hope.

  4. Socket Twomey

    The revelation by Paul, above, that the Press Ombudsman had such a conflict of interest, just beggars belief. I can’t understand why none of this incences people to take action, even if it is as small scale as hassling ministers to fire Savage from RTE and organising a boycott of anything touched by the CC. I get the impression that the country has been so stunned by other economic events, that stuff like this is considered small fry. In other times, this would have been major news.

    On another note, I wonder whether Communications Clinic provide training in managing the Streisand effect.

    1. Socket Twomey

      * doesn’t incense people – apologies for spelling and omission of negative

      1. paul

        It’s not necessarily a conflict of interest, just something that should be pointed out in the interest of transparency.

        1. Socket Twomey

          Sorry, you’re right. Although the fact that it’s not necessarily a conflict of interest doesn’t mean that it’s not a conflict of interest.

          I believe that most sane and reasonable people would shun the arrangement entered into by Savage and Horgan, because of the mere possibility that it could be interpreted as a conflict of interest.

    1. Sopwith

      Strange, I clicked on Jundeck’s profile link on that page and Wiki assumed I was he/she and invited me to edit articles, tell it more about myself etc.!

      1. Paul Moloney

        I think that’s just a profile template that they never edited. The only thing they ever did was create their account in order to edit the Communications Clinic page. Unfortunately – and handily for them – I think this means there is no way to view the IP address from where they made the edits.

        P.

    2. Dave

      You can rate Wikipedia pages based on their trustworthiness,
      Objectivity, and completeness. For what it’s worth, you can just give it 1 star out of 5 for this entry.

    1. spucks

      well said.

      the press council clearly have their hands tied to a degree but who establishes their guidelines / terms of reference? not being able to investigate issues from more than 3 months previous when the december piece itself was written more than 3 months after kate’s original piece seems very restrictive.

      1. Pedanto

        It is very restrictive, isn’t it? Do we know when the rules were formulated, and who had a say?

        1. spucks

          looks like they formulate policy themselves. quote below

          “In their operations, policies, and in their application of the Principles of the Code of Practice, the Press Council and the Office of the Press Ombudsman are independent both of the press industry and of government.”

  5. The Hill Billy

    Airy-fairy shite. “in relation to your wish to make a complaint” – It is not a wish to make a complaint – it is a fncking complaint. It is a complaint of the highest order. Mr & Mrs Fitzgerald were not wishy-washy about this – they were very straight-forward in what their issue was & what they expected in response. The terminology used in the response is a disgrace. Patronising & belittling to say the least. Mr & Mrs Fitzgerald deserve more respect.

  6. Sergeant Pluck

    ‘There is no evidence that the paper acted otherwise than in good faith in publishing the statement complained of because of legal issues that had arisen following the identification of the author of the original article, or that its concern for those who die by suicide and their families is not genuine’

    Repeating the IT line of defence and avoiding any of the substantive issues. This is hugely insulting to Mr and Mrs Fitzgerald.

    It really is incredible, how can the article from which the apology followed be excluded by dint of being more than 3 months old? Surely the original article is integral to the complaint, to exclude it on such a pretext is craven and smacks of not wanting to upset TCC/IT too much. You’d imagine that all articles in IT or statements on it would be treated as a body of evidence (for want of a better way of putting it).

    This from the complaints procedure (http://www.presscouncil.ie/making-a-complaint.24.html):
    “The Press Ombudsman will consider all the material on file and, at that stage, he may exercise his option of referring the complaint to the Press Council of Ireland for decision.
    If he does not refer the complaint to the Press Council, the Press Ombudsman will make a substantive decision on the complaint after making any further enquiries he believes to be necessary, and after considering all of the material on file. This decision will be sent to the complainant and to the publication concerned.”

    Surely ‘all of the material’ would have to include other related articles and not just the apology.

    There’s also this:
    “All information about the complaint has to be submitted to the Office of the Press Ombudsman within three months of publication of the article under complaint, or of the journalistic behaviour taking place.”

    Surely the ‘journalistic behaviour’ being addressed in the complaint about the statement on 3rd December cannot be looked at independently of the original article. Is there any mention anywhere else of the 3 month rule and is the Memorandum and Articles of Association of the Press Council of Ireland in the public domain? I don’t see it on the website but then again their FAQs are in Latin, what a joke of an agency!

    1. SDaedalus

      absolutely agree with all of this – basically what the Ombudsman is saying is that you can publish an article about an article someone else has written and provided that you do that sufficiently long time after the first article is published your own article criticising it cannot be complained about. Ridiculous. A 10 year old would have better reasoning powers.

  7. SDaedalus

    I think the 3 month rule is a requirement alright but it doesn’t apply here as stated above.

    however I have no earthly idea where the Press Council was coming from with their ‘not appealable because administrative decision point’. I notice they didn’t cite any basis for this.

  8. janet

    What’s the real story here? Are IT and TCC kidding? They only filed an appeal to try to save face, knowing full well that it would be denied. What would they have done if there had been an investigation into the truth of Kate’s statement? They are riding a slippery slope with their games because the truth will prevail. As a “professional” communications firm, TCC has failed the test.

    1. Janet

      Oops! My mistake. I thought IT and TCC made the appeal but now understand it was IT and the Fitzgeralds. Regardless, TCC sucks.

  9. Rachel

    What an shameful decision, the three-month rule seems totally arbitrary. Would have expected some backbone and vision from John Horgan. I hope the Fitzgerald parents don’t let this drop.

  10. Toomanyassholes

    What will it take before Irish people rise up properly against the cosy elites that control media, politics, finance and the law?

    They only serve themselves and use the country as a personal cash cow by controlling access to certain professions and government posts.

    I think the problem is that quite a number of people are invested in this system at varying levels so there is no obvious wall between the insiders and the outsiders. But it is there. More of a series of hedgerows, ditches and pitfalls you learn to negotiate over time so you get your piece of the pie.

    Nothing short of an all out brutal revolution causing initial social devastation is going to uproot the old school status quo and tear them from the reigns of power. And the problem then is who replaces it? The alternative could be a lot worse. As with all revolutions, the period after is the most unpredictable.

    1. SDaedalus

      Some ideas (may need to be amended slightly to be workable):-

      Personal conflict of interest disclosure should be mandatory for all people working in the media, at least in the publicly funded part, with effective punitive measures if this isn’t done.

      Where there is a conflict, it should be disclosed in the article/program published. A clear definition of conflict of interest (to include financial gain not only in a personal capacity, but by a company of which you are a director) needs to be laid down, with a body to adjudicate on this and court supervision.

      The Press Council itself and the Ombudsman should have an obligation to identify and declare conflicts of their own and at the very least state these in their decisions.

      All panellists/persons quoted in/by publicly funded media should be required to disclose personal conflicts of interest and should not be used if there is a conflict without those interests also being disclosed on/in the programme/article in question.

      If these requirements are introduced for publicly funded media it will put pressure on the rest to follow suit if they are to be taken seriously.

      Also, any PR firms doing work paid for out of the public purse should be required to disclose their client list, and the work should be taken away if there is a conflict of interest.

  11. Miles O'Tool

    This stinks to high heaven!

    Classic “smoke and daggers” stuff.

    Spin doctoring is a black art and its practicioners are skilled in manipulating events to suit a purpose.

    Not too skilled in this case though!

    It’s very sad that the loss of a young woman’s life has been treated as an exercise in blame avoidance.

  12. Lou_the_lou

    John Horgan displays a distinct lack of intelligence in his reasoning. Tom and Sally Fitzgerald should take a civil case against The Irish Times.

    1. paul

      I think we should just encourage people not to buy it – as I have done for the last couple of years.

      1. True Kilcockian

        The most appropriate thing to do might be to organise a boycott of products and of politicians associated with this family.

  13. Rugbyfan

    If it was collusion between politicians and builders or bankers more people would be discussing it.

  14. Lou_the_lou

    Just noticed Norah Casey is on the Press Council. Same ole faces everywhere. Why is that?

  15. Chrisoutforeign

    Reopening the investigation! Doesn’t look like this can of worms is going anywhere.

  16. Orlaith

    I too find it bizarre. I think we all recognise the need for time limits but 3 months is very restrictive. In most situations (e.g equality complaints) time limits can be extended for exceptional circumstances. There is a clear nexus here between the apology on 3rd December and the article on 9th September. I find it strange that they were not considered together.
    18 out of 30 appeals to the Press Council were not admitted in 2010 presumably because they are out of time . Again this raises questions in my mind. Complaints are not supposed to fail at the first procedural hurdle especially at the appeal stage. Otherwise what is the point in having a press council in the first place if complaints are not even allowed to (labouring the analogy) start the race?

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