Privacy, public interest and the press


Sir, – Noel Whelan is right to highlight a weakness in the Press Council when it comes to invasions into the grief and privacy of ordinary citizens at a time of tragedy (Opinion, September 22nd). Nearly 40 years ago now, that German friend of Ireland Heinrich Böll dealt graphically in fiction with the impact of unmerited tabloid sensationalism on decent people in his novel The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum.

If newspapers and the Irish Press Council now allow editors to defeat the spirit of the Council’s Code of Practice by gambling on a provision that appears to permit only those whose privacy has been invaded to make complaints about gross intrusion, or if editors begin to weigh up the material benefits of such invasions against the inability of the Press Ombudsman to do much more than merely scold transgressors, then the Press Council will be seen to fail.

The press will do a disservice to the public if it gives politicians an excuse to pass the Privacy Bill 2006. For that Bill has always seemed like an expression of the distaste of our elites for freedom of speech and freedom of information.

Politicians sometimes seem more exercised by the perceived need to close ranks to protect inner circles of society from prying eyes than they are by providing a clear picture of how society actually works.

The biggest untold story in Ireland today remains that of where all the many billions went that taxpayers have been replacing in banks at a disastrous cost to the country. In this case, privacy, constitutional rights and other precious protections ought to be outweighed by the public interest in a frank account of the ways in which Ireland’s financial independence was betrayed.

First-time buyers of overpriced homes got only a fraction of the total bank loans, many of the largest of which went abroad and by no means all of which simply disappeared into thin air. Yet without any clear public account of what transpired in practice or where the money went, we have been saddled with replacing those billions at a cost to ordinary citizens that impacts on their private lives far more than do a few tasteless or intrusive pictures in the press. – Yours, etc,


Dublin City University,

Glasnevin, Dublin 9.