27 October 2005 Edition
Lawlor coverage - Call for action against
Indo apologies not enough
A Sinn Féin call for a debate about newspaper coverage of the circumstances of the death of former Fianna Fáil TD Liam Lawlor was ruled out of order in the Dáil last Tuesday.
Sinn Féin's Arthur Morgan called for the proceedings of the House to be adjourned to "discuss the need to ensure that certain shameless newspapers cannot publish fiction, presented as fact simply to earn yet more money for their fat cat owners, as witnessed on Sunday last; also the introduction of sanctions to ensure that Tony O'Reilly and all newspapers cannot gain financially from such actions.
Sinn Féin's Dáil leader also asked whether Justice Minister Michael McDowell was considering legislation to curb the power and abuses of media moguls.
Apologies, media backtracking, promised investigations, political outcry and resuscitated proposals for an Irish press council were just some of the reactions in the aftermath of coverage of Liam Lawlor's death.
The former TDs death in car crash along with his driver also left injured co-worker Julia Kushnir, a Ukrainian interpreter and legal assistant, seeking apologies from seven different Sunday newspapers.
Kushnir was described in the Observer as a "call girl" and in the Sunday Independent as "likely to be a prostitute" under a front-page headline proclaiming: "Lawlor killed in red-light district with teenage girl."
While the Sunday Independent and Observer newspapers have apologised for their coverage of Ms Kushnir, lawyers acting for her in Ireland are also seeking apologies from the Sunday Tribune, the Sunday World, the Star on Sunday, the Sunday People, and the News of the World.
Of the seven papers, four are part of or part-owned by the Independent News and Media group and their collective action in running error-filled articles has highlighted to a wider public what many republicans have known for years that the Independent Group often get it wrong when it comes to news reporting but unlike this week rarely issue apologies.
Sunday Independent Editor Aengus Fanning said on Monday that he was taking full responsibility for the story being published and that he wished to "apologise unreservedly for the pain and distress that this coverage had caused the Lawlor family".
However, Fanning's statement also gave some background into how the story was sourced. He said that the information came from a "highly-regarded source", which was Nick Paton Walsh, the Guardian and Observer Moscow correspondent. This view was echoed by Michael Deniffe, Managing Editor of Independent Newspapers who also apologised but made reference to the Paton Walsh source. Paton Walsh has replied saying that he had no hand in drafting the Independent story.
Séamus Dooley, Irish Secretary of the National Union of Journalists described the coverage as "irresponsible" and said that the debacle highlighted the need for a press council.
Justice Minister Michael McDowell entered the fray with a commitment to publish legislation for setting up an Irish press council by Christmas. While welcoming the apologies, condemnations and promises for government action must come as a surprise to the hundreds of others who fall foul of the Sunday Independent's columnists.
Only last week the same paper carried four articles and an editorial attacking Alex Reid. There have been over the last decades hundreds of others who have been undermined and misrepresented by the Independent News and Media Group. The question some people were asking was whether McDowell had given any thought to his days as a columnist and the subject matter he chose to write about in that paper.