Star editor suspended over Kate Middleton photographs

Mon, Sep 17, 2012, 01:00

The editor of the Irish Daily Star, Michael O'Kane, has been suspended pending a joint investigation by  the newspaper's shareholders into the publication of topless photographs of Kate Middleton.

In a statement this evening, the publishers of the newspaper - Independent Star Ltd - said Mr O'Kane had been suspended with immediate effect. It made no further comment.

Earlier, the Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said he was going to revisit the Privacy Bill in the wake of the publication of the photographs.

In a statement, Mr Shatter said balanced legislation was needed that did not inhibit proper investigative journalism, the reporting of news and the expression of opinion on matters of genuine public interest but that also prevents flagrant violation of an individual’s right to privacy.

“Despite the existence of our Press Council and reasonable principles which the print media are expected to follow, it is clear that some sections of the print media are either unable or unwilling in their reportage to distinguish between “prurient interest” and “the public interest,” he said.

"It is perceived financial gain as opposed to any principled freedom of expression that for some is the dominant value. The publication by the Irish Daily Star in Ireland of topless photographs of Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, is a clear illustration of this. It is clear that sections of the print media believe that public figures are fair game and have no right to privacy in respect of any aspect of their lives."

"It is my intention to revisit the provisions of the Privacy Bill 2006 which was reinstated to the Seanad Order paper following the formation of the Government, to consider what changes should be made to it in the context of developments that have taken place since its first publication and to then progress its enactment," he added.

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) warned tonight against a knee-jerk reaction to the publication of the photographs.

Irish secretary Seamus Dooley said the threat of privacy legislation by the Minister for Justice was “a worrying development with serious implications.”

"Mr Shatter is again threatening to revisit a deeply flawed piece of legislation. The Privacy Bill was shelved some years ago after it had been comprehensively discredited. It would serve to undermine freedom of expression and protect those anxious to avoid media scrutiny. Mr Shatter should not punish the Irish media based on one episode involving members of the British Royal family,” he said.

The Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte today described as "totally disproportionate" a threat to close the Irish Daily Star newspaper by its UK-based joint owner.

On Saturday, Richard Desmond, chairman of Northern & Shell (N&S), said he would take “immediate steps” to close down the joint venture following the decision of the Irish tabloid to publish photographs of the Duchess of Cambridge sunbathing topless.

Mr Rabbitte said he found it very hard to get worked up about the issue. "I don't think it was especially good taste by the Irish Star, but I think there's a great dollop of hypocrisy on the part of the [UK] part-owner of the Irish Star," he said.

It was a "totally disproportionate" response, Mr Rabbitte added. The Minister told journalists the paper had made a "slip" regarding the possible future queen of England but that this should not threaten the paper or the jobs of journalists working there.

When the unusual position of a Minister defending a red-top was pointed out, Mr Rabbitte replied: "You have no idea the countless numbers of unusual positions in which Ministers find themselves."

Yesterday the threat to shut Irish Daily Star newspaper was also described as “disproportionate” by the tabloid’s Dublin-based shareholder, Independent News & Media.

The Irish version of the Star is jointly owned by N&S and INM under an agreement that dates back to 1987. INM, where businessman Denis O’Brien now exercises considerable influence, said it was a “regrettable decision” by the Irish Daily Star to republish pages from the French magazine Closer.

INM said it warranted “immediate investigation” and that “steps are already under way in this regard”.

The Irish media company said, however, that the threat to close the Dundrum-based tabloid, which employs about 120 staff directly and indirectly, was “disproportionate to a poor editorial decision” made without reference to shareholders.

Mr Desmond said he was “very angry” at the Irish Daily Star’s decision to publish the photographs.

He said there was “no justification” for publishing the pictures. “Northern Shell condemns it in the strongest possible terms.”

Gareth Morgan, editor of the Daily Star in the UK, said he was “horrified” by the publication.

The British edition of the Star did not publish the photographs, nor did other UK papers.

On Saturday, INM said it had “no prior knowledge of the decision to publish”.

Yet, on Friday evening, Michael O’Kane had told RTÉ Radio 1’s Drivetime show that he intended to publish the photographs the following day, subject to legal advice.

“I can’t think of any reason not to publish them,” Mr O’Kane told RTÉ.

Ger Colleran, managing director of Independent Star Ltd, which runs the tabloid, did not respond to calls and texts yesterday. Mr Colleran is a former editor of the paper.

Press ombudsman John Horgan told The Irish Times yesterday he had not received any complaint about the matter. “I can’t make a decision until I have a complaint,” he added.

Complaints can be lodged up to three months after publication.

The Press Council of Ireland’s code of practice states that “taking photographs of individuals in private places without their consent is not acceptable, unless justified by the public interest”.

The Irish Daily Star signed up to that code when the council was set up in January 2008.

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