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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: December 30, 2009 @ 1:38 pm

    Brian Lenihan

    Harry McGee

    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.

    • Senan says:

      I’m a little divided on this one. There’s a big difference between the implied privacy of Princess Caroline of Monaco out shopping (no public repercussion), and Brian Lenihan having a serious illness (big public repercussion).

      Yes, individuals should – no matter their position – be entitled to a certain level of privacy, but when the situation affects the country in such a direct way as that of the finance minister in the current economic climate, I feel an immediate statement directly from Fianna Fail should have been forthcoming.

    • paxtime says:

      It is interesting that the shares index went up substantially on the breaking news of Lenihan’s illness. Not exactly a vote of confidence nor of sympathy. When all is said and done and obviously one wishes the man no harm he was responsible for the most meanspirited budget in living memory.

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      The issue of repercussions of the illness is that the story could easily have waited until those repercussions were manifest. It does not appear that his ability to do his job has been those far impaired and so a few days’ delay would have had no negative impact for the country.

    • Liam says:

      How did it get leaked? It would be criminal if it was leaked by medical staff

    • Senan says:

      Dan, actually markets (be they equity or bonds or whatever) react very quickly to this type of news. Just because politicians are back in their constituencies over the Christmas period does not mean that all other business has shut down. Why delay these things?

    • Hugh says:

      So, it’s down to timing is it? So, how long should they wait? 27 December 2009?; Until the New Year? 12.01 on 1st January 2010? Until we find out who in Eastenders killed Uncle Archie? Or what? What is not surprising here, even with the privacy aspect put aside, is that the Irish media is somehow continued to expect to adopt a “friends and family” approach to this situation. But then, they’ve been doing that for years with Irish politicians, banks, and celebrities, haven’t they?

    • steve white says:

      So you’re basing this all on its being Christmas, Harry; vague sentiment, how long did you know?

    • Hugh says:

      Furthermore, when exactly would the Government have announced this to the public? Or woud we have to find out for ourselves, just like we did with other politicians? Maybe Easter Sunday? That the Irish media are going around tut-tutting at TV3 like the Irish ‘offencerati’ on Twitter says a lot about the media’s ability to prioritise issues and investigate accordingly.


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