The Press Ombudsman has rejected a complaint from a GP that the Sunday Tribune acted unethically by obtaining a number of prescriptions
for anti-depressants under false pretences.
Press ombudsman Professor John Horgan found that the newspaper's approach to its investigation was warranted in the public interest and the article was an "appropriate journalistic contribution".
In August, Shane Clancy (22) stabbed Sebastian Creane (22) to death at his home in Bray, Co Wicklow, before turning the knife on himself and taking his own life.
Clancy's parents have since separately voiced concerns about their son's misuse of anti-depressants as he had attempted to overdose on the medication a week before he carried out his attack.
As a result of this tragedy, a Sunday Tribune reporter visited five GPs in Dublin and Wicklow and reported feeling depressed in an attempt to establish how easy it would be to obtain a prescription for anti-depressants.
Out of the five GPs visited, four doctors who had never treated the undercover journalist before, prescribed antidepressants.
After the publication of the article, several GPs wrote to the newspaper complaining about the method used by this newspaper. Many of these letters were published over several weeks. One GP, Ruairi Hanley, who was not visited by the journalist in the course of the newspaper's investigation, made a complaint to the press ombudsman about the article.
Hanley argued that the Sunday Tribune breached Irish newspapers' code of practice (fairness and honesty) by obtaining prescriptions through misrepresentation.
However, Horgan found in his decision that the article was justified by the public interest. He also noted that the newspaper offered to print a letter from the GP expressing his opinion but this offer was not accepted.
"In the circumstances outlined, the article was an appropriate journalistic contrib- ution to an ongoing debate being carried out by a number of people and institutions," Horgan stated in his decision. "The complaint is therefore not upheld. Newspaper editors have a continuing role in fostering public debate on matters of public interest. The editor's offer to the complainant in this case underlined the importance of all publications making their columns available to a wide range of readers and other commentators' opinions on matters of public controversy, both in relation to their own editorial views and in relation to their editorial decisions, within the normal constraints of the law of defamation."
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