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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: January 29, 2010 @ 11:02 am

    Privacy in the Age of 24/7 News

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    Privacy is becoming more and  more of an issue in these days of 24/7 news and tabloid (or even “broadloid”) intrusiveness. We have had two controversies aired in recent days: the shielding of a witness in a murder trial and the travails of Government minster Martin Cullen.

    The woman in the Celine Cawley murder trial who gave evidence of having an affair with the accused was given private access to the courts by the Gardaí, so that the media could not take pictures of her.

    This caused uproar but, interestingly, there were no complaints about not having access to the teenage child of the married couple in the trial. The only pictures that were wanted were pictures of the accused’s girlfriend. One has to wonder if  there was any fundamental interest at stake here, or was it just prurient interest? The tabloids (and maybe one or two “broadloids”) would have had a field day with the pictures. It is at least arguable that the woman’s life would have been ruined and that the Guards took a decent, humane decision for which they should be applauded. 

    As for Martin Cullen, he himself may be considered fair game as a politician and public figure – that’s the way we live now - but surely it should stop short at his family? Cullen was, of course, wrong to compare his experience to rape. But that unfortunate and insensitive verbal slip should not be made the main issue in the discussion. To read the Cullen speech, click here.

    • Deaglán, what’s your definition of a verbal slip? Something you say off the cuff, and without really thinking it through?
      Because Cullen “chose his words carefully when he spoke” (RTE News http://www.rte.ie/news/2010/0122/cullenm.html). That’s from the Minister’s own mouth a day later. And from the speech itself:
      “That was how it felt – and I use those words very carefully – but that was actually how I felt. As it progressed I said to myself I don’t feel like that. I actually go to bed every night knowing that I was going to be raped the following day.”

      That’s hardly an “unfortunate and insensitive verbal slip” is it?

    • BriefCase says:

      I don’t know if the Rules are the same in Ireland, but this side of the pond it is the Court that makes Special Measures directions, usually to protect ‘vulnerable’ witnesses in order to ‘enhance the quality of the evidence’. It may be that it was not therefore just ‘a decent humane decision by the Gardai’, but a decision made in the ‘Interests of Justice’ if the witness would not otherwise have been prepared to give her evidence.
      Regarding press intrusion/prurience…sure you know yourself what sells papers…

    • Fergal says:

      A) Martin Cullen has been quite clear that his words were chosen very deliberately. There was no “slip”. This is a man who, having considered the matter, genuinely thinks the very best comparison to what he experienced is that of rape.

      B) You cannot, alas, legislate for what happens in playgrounds. But whatever about school bullies, the media never went near Martin Cullen’s children. I didn’t even know he had kids until he spoke about them. Now the whole country knows about their difficult time in schools, because their Father chose to make them an issue.

    • steve white says:

      and the IT wouldn’t have printed the pictures,you had nearly a full page on the trial why?

    • ciaran says:

      Unfortunately for Cullen, the rest of his speech was lucid, clear, and filled with good points.

      Unfortunately whoever gave him the all clear to go ahead with it while leaving his comparison in made a grievous error. (He does have someone to double check his speeches, right?!)

    • Deaglán says:

      It is quite legit to have full coverage of the trial which is the most interesting case to come before the courts in some time. Human drama of a high order and it is appropriate to give it full coverage. It’s called News!
      But the Gardaí were right to give consideration to the impact on the witness in question if her face was plastered all over the media. Just look at the photographers crowding around Lillis as he makes his way into court each day. I haven’t seen anything like it since I covered a gig involving Prince Charles some years back. Doing that to a young woman who is not accused of anything is not in order, in my humble opinion.
      As for Cullen’s rape comparison, it was unfortunate and inappropriate as I suggested but the major issue of rape and sexual violence should not be trivialised by using it to distract from the wider issues raised in the Cullen speech. That’s disingenuous and opportunistic pursuit of a political agenda against Cullen and has nothing to do with highlighting the huge and challenging issue of sexual violence and how to stop it in our society.

    • click here says:

      Dear God, Deaglán, are you for real?

      Cullen’s remarks were not simply “unfortunate and inappropriate,” and they won’t become so no matter how many times you repeat yourself. They were considered and deliberately included in his prepared speech, as Cullen has said himself.

      The only person to “trivialised” rape and sexual violence was Cullen himself by his use of the comparison. The only objections I have heard or read are based on just that: his use of that comparison which was plainly crass, wrong and insulting to survivors.

      Your remark that objections to Cullen’s use of words are a “disingenuous and opportunistic pursuit of a political agenda against Cullen” is disgraceful.

    • Blimey O'Riley says:

      ‘Humble’…Deaglan…? Hmmm! an oxymoronic juxtaposition imho!

    • Deaglán says:

      “Disgraceful”??? Get a grip. It is quite clear what is going on here. Martin Cullen, whatever you may think about his performance as a minister etc, has raised valid questions about the media and privacy, especially family privacy. The fact that he used an unfortunate and inappropriate analogy (by referring to rape in his attempt to convey what it felt like to be subject to such media coverage) is not a valid reason for turning the debate away from the privacy issue. Rape and how it can be stamped out is a subject of such major importance that it deserves to be discussed in its own right. I contend that those who are seeking to divert the discussion away from the privacy issue are misguided and, in some cases, motivated by opportunistic political considerations. It is right and proper that anti-rape campaigners should vehemently object to Cullen’s inappropriate language but that’s not an excuse for others who would seek to shelve the privacy debate.

    • Blimey O'Riley says:

      Rape:Privacy …When someone deliberately compares sexual violence with ‘doorstepping’ and that person is a Government Minister, it IS a political issue and one that calls in to question his judgement…particularly when the usage was deliberate and obviously calculated for maximum effect. And it is not an issue to be marginalised to ‘Rape Campaigners’…by default Cullen has brought it into the forefront of public debate in a way even Listowel did not. I can only imagine the Paxmeisters response to that little gaffe!
      And Deaglan a little more measured in your responses as a Senior member of the press might be in order…?

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      Interesting how privacy never applies to people who aren’t part of the middle class – you never see any attempts to protect the privacy of people in court who would not be from a middle class background. Yet for the Lillis case the justice system goes out of its way to bend to the wants of those facing court – no arriving in handcuffs for Mr Lillis and then after being found guilty he is allowed walk out of court to ‘settle his affairs’ …

      As for Cullen – no, using the word rape was not ‘unfortunate’ it is totally unacceptable and he should be roasted alive until he publicly and sincerely apologises for using it. By your actions ye be judged … and by his actions he is not only one of the worst cabinet members at the moment, but in the history of the State. There is not one single achievement he can lay claim to although there are many failures he directly caused.

    • steve white says:

      its not the most interesting case it was the most prurient case in a while. it didn’t deserve a full page. that’s excessive. NI issues should and do get a full page, the gangland murders don’t get a full page. its middle class voyeurism from the supposed paper of record.

      again would the IT not have published the picture get off your high horse. “Its called news!” isn’t an explanation.

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      Deaglán, privacy also throws up the companion issues of transparency and veracity.

      Martin Cullen said in his speech that certain things happened that if they did occur are wholly disgraceful and wrong but we’ve only his word for it. He says a journalist entered his house when his daughter was home alone, who was this person? What complaint was made to the journalist’s employer, does there exist any record of this? Or are we to rely solely on his word for it?

      There is also the assertion that his sons got a hiding or a beating for as he says defending their father’s reputation but how did they seek to defend it? Who threw the first punch? We don’t know and again there appears to be no record of any assaults occurring.

      People including politicians are entitled to privacy but then they bring up something from their private life and use it to support a point they should be able to stand over it. Martin Cullen has a history of saying things he can’t stand over or back up, he did this on e-voting along with other policy decisions.

      How do we as members of the public know that any of these things occurred?


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