Ahern criticises media's Oireachtas coverage


MINISTER FOR Justice Dermot Ahern has criticised the media for not paying enough attention to the work being done by politicians in the Dáil and Seanad.

He said that, “but for a few exceptions, not a lot of attention is paid to what goes on in the Oireachtas on a daily basis”.

Sometimes “the soundbite” took away from the substantial work that Oireachtas members did in relation to pieces of legislation, he continued.

“And I don’t think it does a service to the media generally that a lot of the issues are honed down to, perhaps, one or two little issues and to a certain extent some of the other parts of legislation are ignored or forgotten about.”

Mr Ahern said media scrutiny of the Oireachtas was “vital” for our democracy.

“I think over the last number of years . . . there has been a lessening of the involvement of the media in the day-to-day working of the Oireachtas,” he said.

“Yes of course there’s been increased interest in the personalities who inhabit the Oireachtas but not in relation to – it has to be said, it’s gone the opposite way – in relation to the work of the Oireachtas.”

Mr Ahern was speaking at the publication of the 2009 annual report of the Press Council and the Office of the Press Ombudsman.

He also said there was a lot more to the Defamation Bill than the issues highlighted by the media. Referring to the coverage of the blasphemy measure, he said the “ludicrous and sometimes over-exaggerated issue of blasphemy . . . didn’t really do a service to some of the commentary that was made about it”.

Media commentators “tended to ignore the facts and the reality that I, as Minister, was constrained under the provisions of the Constitution in relation to what had to be done”, he said.

“Until we had a constitutional referendum in that respect I had to act in accordance with the Constitution but, despite that, people chose to cloud the issue.”

Mr Ahern pointed to another measure, which gives people who come before Oireachtas committees the same legal protection as TDs and senators, and said he was “somewhat amused” that this element of the Bill was only being highlighted now.