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Excuse Me, Can I Speak to the Editor?
In his first major interview, Aengus Fanning, editor of the Sunday Independent, discusses how he manages the most successful paper in Ireland and the death of Veronica Guerin.
Jason O'Toole, 04 Nov 2008
The Sunday Independent had to pay damages for printing an inaccurate story on the death of Liam Lawlor – which caused outrage too.
The Liam Lawlor story was a mistake. If there was such a thing, it was an honest mistake. I believed it to be true. One relies on one’s journalists. In fact, I thought I was qualifying the prostitute reference by including the line – ‘More than likely a prostitute!’ It was wrong. A lot of papers copied us without having any source at all. At least we had original sources of our own – we had a journalist and a police officer – and others copied it from the Sunday Independent. It wasn’t pleasant. We paid the price for that. Financially and every other way. And I deeply regret the distress it caused to the Lawlor family.
There was another furore after you printed a front-page report on the tragic death in childbirth of Garda Sergeant Tania Corcoran with a headline that she was the wife of the ERU Garda who had fired a fatal shot in the Abbeylara siege. Do you regret that?
There again, I would accept that I made a mistake. It’s an unfortunate thing in this trade if you make mistakes, you’re hammered for them, particularly by the rest of the media. We try to learn from them, but it’s a painful process. With that particular story I was absolutely satisfied that it was factually accurate, that we were printing the truth. It was upsetting to a lot of people. If I had my time over again I’d have put it on an inside page instead of page one. That’s hindsight, you know? If I’d put that on page 10, I don’t think there would have been much a fuss about it, but I put it on page one – that was my error.
On the subject of libel cases, presumably the slanderous gossip in Terry Keane’s social column had you constantly in fear of the Four Courts?
There’s a myth out there that it was libel fraught. In fact, it had a remarkable libel-free track record. There were one or two cases threatened. I think we published two apologies in the entire history of it and settled both for small amounts of money. Nobody ever successfully prosecuted the Keane Edge for libel. It was described by no less than Fintan O’Toole as a delightful satire of Irish social life. I remember our managing director, Joe Hayes, telling me one day, ‘It’s shit hot! (laughs)’. In my opinion, for the 12 years the Keane Edge ran it was the most successful social column in Irish journalism – ever. It was read by everybody – from top to bottom – in Irish society.