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Will privacy legislation follow TV3’s disclosure of Brian Lenihan’s illness?

TV3 News logo, via TV3 websiteJoe Ryan wrote both an interesting comment on this morning’s post and a great post about the issue on his own blog. My reply to him became too long for a comment, so I’ve upgraded it to this post.

First, I should say that I worked with for a few years in TCD, and my thoughts and best wishes are with him and his family at this difficult time. It may be a cliché, but it’s nonetheless true for all that, and I hope he returns to rude good health as quickly as possible.

Second, as TJ McIntyre and Jason Walsh argue, Brian’s illness must be a prime example of a public interest in disclosure. On the other hand, Jim Tormey argues that it is a legitimate matter of public interest only when Brian finds or it appears obvious that he cannot do his job. This is a strong argument, and even some who are wary of overbearing privacy laws are discomfited by ’s insensitivity and lack of self-restraint. In the circumstances, I think that Brian showed great restraint in not seeking an injunction to prevent TV3’s broadcast, and I agree with Joe (and with Myles Duffy on The Crimson Observer) that, if Brian chooses to make an issue of it, the matter should go to the recently-fully-established Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). Compare the adjudications of the Press Ombudsman and Press Council upholding a complaint by Tony Gregory TD that a reporter for the Evening Herald confronting his brother at his home was an invasion of privacy justified neither by the complainant’s public position as a Dáil deputy, nor by the significance of the information being sought about his ongoing battle with cancer. (Ironically, the Herald now thinks that TV3 treated Brian and his family badly).

However, my point – indeed my worry – in my previous post, is not what he himself would do but what others might do ‘on his behalf’, and seek to resurrect the moribund (but flawed) Privacy Bill, 2006?

When he was Minister for Justice in January 2008 (amplifying something he had said two months earlier), Brian did not rule out introducing such a Bill, but instead gave the media 2 years to prove that it was not necessary. Last April, his successor as Minister for Justice, Dermot Ahern (rather controversially) said that he plans to revive the dormant Privacy Bill, citing a worrying trend in media intrusion to get a good story. We’re nearly at the end of Brian’s two year grace period, and TV3’s actions are being seen as another example of just such intrusive gutter journalism. As a consequence, I think it very likely that those who want privacy legislation are even now lining up to use it as an excuse to drum up support for it. It would be a great pity if the politicians were to legislate in haste, leaving the rest of us to repent at leisure. Let us first see if the BAI can resolve the issue; only then, with cooler heads, should we proceed to consider whether further legislative intervention is required. If that comes to pass, then TV3’s short-sighted decision to broadcast may have gained them some short-term beneift but in the long-run we will all be short-changed.

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10 Responses to “Will privacy legislation follow TV3’s disclosure of Brian Lenihan’s illness?”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Bosca, Eoin O'Dell. Eoin O'Dell said: http://tinyurl.com/y92pjms My new blogpost: Will privacy legislation follow TV3's disclosure of Brian Lenihan's illness? […]

  2. […] This post was Twitted by bosca […]

  3. Unfortunately, political interest in reviving the Privacy Bill always peaks when the media “intrudes” on their own patch or personal lives.

    This particular story is certainly news and newsworthy, but there is a good deal of truth in the comments made by many that nothing was served in broadcasting it on Stephen’s Day. TV3 could have picked a better story to scoop the rest of the media on and their manner of reporting the story was absolutely abhorrent.

    On the other hand, a cosy media consensus to avoid a story could be seen as a phenomenon of Irish society that many want done away with. When Tony Gregory passed away it was reported that his illness was known of by politicians and the media prior to the 2007 election. Perhaps we don’t want or need an American political style in which the media is obsessed with the health of politicians. However, much as I find it somewhat distasteful to suggest the idea, many of his constituents might like to have known of his illness when casting their vote. They may still have voted for him, and certainly his reputation and popularity suggest as much.

    The current story doesn’t fit that critique or scenario as it does not immediately relate to the Minister’s ability to do his job and does not relate to corruption, for example.

  4. steve white says:

    was tony gregory work disrupted? who knows?

  5. This topic is covered in today’s Times, albeit with a misleading headline that suggests the same ground is covered as in Eoin’s post when, in fact, only the final two sentences allude to the Privacy Bill.

    http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2009/1230/1224261408308.html

  6. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by cearta: http://tinyurl.com/y92pjms My new blogpost: Will privacy legislation follow TV3’s disclosure of Brian Lenihan’s illness?…

  7. […] read it here first folks. Now, in today’s Irish Times, Michael Foley (School of Media, DIT) writes: […]

  8. We have had 40 years of “Privacy” in the world of church and politics and every newspaper that dared to criticize any politician, judge, businessman or cleric, paid dearly for the audacity in the Four Courts.

    If a story breaks at the wrong time so be it. The government should have come clean on the difficulties facing the most important politician in the country at the present time.

    We need more whistleblowers and more invasion by the media of the cosy secretive world of politicians and “golden circles” in Irish society.

  9. […] as, this time last year, politicians sought to use TV3’s revalations of Brian Lenihan’s illness as a reason to suggest privacy legislation – notwithstanding the Broadcasting Authority of […]

  10. […] Drury will be very well aware that TV3′s revelations of Brian Lenihan’s illness could make privacy legislation more likely, even though the Minister himself seems remarkably phlegmatic about it: Lenihan says he was rushed […]

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Me in a hatHi there! Thanks for dropping by. I'm Eoin O'Dell, and this is my blog: Cearta.ie - the Irish for rights.

"Cearta" really is the Irish word for rights, so the title provides a good sense of the scope of this blog.

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