Brian’s Lenihan’s diagnosis of cancer – and the the manner in which his terrible news was broken – is going to dominate public discourse well into the New Year. He is going to release a statement about his condition early in the New Year. There will also be a continuing debate about TV3′s decision to run with the story on St Stephen’s Day.
We took a decision to be restrained on this matter in this blog, on the basis that he has yet to make a statement about the nature of his condition, its gravity and its implications.
I will say this and no more: Brian Lenihan is a public figure, a very public figure. Even public figures are entitled to a private life. There is well-estalished law on this in a European context, most notably the decision in favour of Princess Caroline of Monaco that accepted the very public nature of her role but also held that she was entitled to privacy even when in public places. The facts of that case were that she trying to prevent paparazzi taking pictures of her while she was shopping.
There is no way that Brian Lenihan’s illness could not have been disclosed to the general public. The two questions revolved around sensitivity and timing. TV3 will argue that they could have run the story on Christmas Eve but gave him two days to inform his family and those close to him. Others, and I include myself in that group, believe that this argument doesn’t stand water. Essentially, a man who has been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness is not given the choice as to when he can share the news, and must do it on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
St Stephen’s Day was a Saturday. I am sure that all of the Sundays were aware of the situation and I am also sure that one of the Sundays would have broken the story. But that still doesn’t make it right. As it was, some of the Sundays attacked TV3 for breaking the story, at the same time using it as a cover to write about his illness and prognosis at length.
So how long should we have waited. Sure, the Minister for Finance having a debilitating illness is a public interest story, especially at a time when he is playing such a pivotal role in public and private life. There is no doubt that there would have been disclosure. Last year, there was a lot of speculation about the medical condition of Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple. As the driving force behind, and personification of, a hugely successful brand, his illness was of public interest, even though he refused to make any public statement. Eventually, he confirmed his serious illness and disclosed that he had a liver transplant.
So how long should the media have waited. Sure, not indefinitely. But at least until the early days of the New Year. It’s true that if TV3 had not broken ranks, some other organisation would have. But giving him two days over the Christmas period was just not enough.