Mr Neil Sharpson and the Sunday Independent
The Press Ombudsman has decided that the Sunday Independent made an offer of sufficient remedial action to resolve a complaint by Mr Neil Sharpson that an article published on 25 August 2013, reporting certain claims about alternative technologies, was in breach of Principles 1 (Truth and Accuracy) and 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment) of the Code of Practice for Newspapers and Magazines.
The article reported on what it said was a groundbreaking new Irish technology that “could be the greatest breakthrough in agriculture since the plough.”
Mr Sharpson complained that the claims made in the article were not justified and that the newspaper had compromised its authority as a source of public information by publishing them. The newspaper responded that the complainant was perfectly entitled to enter into a debate on the merits or otherwise of the claimed breakthrough, and invited him to submit a letter for publication.
The complainant submitted two letters strongly challenging the scientific claims reported in the article and the newspaper’s decision to publish it. Neither of these, however, satisfied the newspaper’s requirements that the response should be a measured one capable of being published in a national newspaper as opposed to on a blog, and left open its offer to consider publishing a more appropriate version of his letter subject to the usual legal and editorial constraints.
It is clear that, in matters of controversy, newspapers provide a service to their readers by making space available to the protagonists of different points of view and this article was, on the face of it, likely to give rise to substantial controversy. At the same time, the newspaper was within its rights in limiting its offer to publish a letter from the complainant to one that would comply with the necessary legal and editorial constraints and, for this reason, the offer constituted an offer of sufficient remedial action to resolve the complaint.