Politicians ‘need to develop thicker skins’ about media coverage

Gsoc inquiry into Clare Daly arrest leak ‘unreasonable’, says European press monitor

OSCE free speech representative Dunja Mijatovic said even if a politician was subsequently cleared of suspected wrongdoing - as Clare Daly TD (above) was - the arrest of a politician was a matter of public interest. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons / The Irish Times

OSCE free speech representative Dunja Mijatovic said even if a politician was subsequently cleared of suspected wrongdoing - as Clare Daly TD (above) was - the arrest of a politician was a matter of public interest. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons / The Irish Times

 

The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc) investigation into who leaked information of Dublin Fingal TD Clare Daly’s arrest on suspicion of drink driving was “unreasonable” and politicians needed to develop a “thicker skin” on such matters, a leading international human rights and press freedom figure has said.

Dunja Mijatovic, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE) representative on freedom of the media, said public figures were entitled to privacy but also needed to accept their behaviour and events in their life were often of genuine public interest.

Asked if a lengthy investigation by Gsoc into the leak of the information about Ms Daly’s arrest was reasonable or unreasonable she said: “Unreasonable. This is something that is at the core, not just of investigative journalism, but journalism as such; you need to see if the information is in the public interest.

“And if we talk about people that are public figures, they have a different position to ordinary men and women.

“They need to be more accountable and transparent in everything (they) are doing. Of course privacy is very important, but if there is something effecting (a public person’s) life then the public should know because I am a public official.”

Ms Mijatovic was speaking to The Irish Times at a conference on violent online political extremism at Dublin City University, where she gave the keynote address.

In her speech, she spoke at length about the need to maintain press freedom in times of conflict and crisis. She said journalists were increasingly being targeted by the authorities in many countries because of their writing.

Speaking to reporters afterwards, she said she had published a communiqué urging politicians to demonstrate a “higher level of tolerance when it comes to criticism and reporting in the media”.

While she was not familiar with all of the detail of Ms Daly’s case, she believed news of Ms Daly’s arrest appeared to be one such case.

“Public figures are, in a way, in a public sphere... If you are a public official and if you go for election; you absolutely need to show a thicker skin.”

Ms Mijatovic said even if a politician was subsequently cleared of suspected wrongdoing - as Ms Daly was - the arrest of a politician was a matter of public interest.

“Anything concerning potential wrongdoing is something that is in the public interest. But then again, if she was cleared, that should also be reported.”

Ms Daly was arrested in January, 2013, on suspicion of drink driving, with news of the incident emerging in the media. She was subsequently cleared of being over the legal alcohol limit.

She lodged a complaint to Gsoc which carried out a three-year investigation into the source of the leak, accessing journalists’ and Garda members’ phone records. It concluded the leak likely came from the Garda but could not identify what member.

Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald said while young people had travelled from Ireland to fight in trouble spots such as Iraq and Syria having been radicalised, numbers appeared to be modest.

However, she said Ireland must remain vigilant to the threat of people being radicalised online.

Asked whether the abuse of young people and female politicians or women in public life was now a pressing issue, Ms Fitzgerald said measures in the Sexual Offences Bill would deal with the harassment and abuse of children online.

The Law Reform Commission was currently examining cyber crime and she “would expect further laws arising as a result of their recommendations”.

However, while remarks online involving threats to people’s lives “had to be taken seriously” it was not clear that much could be done to curb robust exchanges.

There was also a responsibility to safeguard freedom speech and to acknowledge the benefits of technology.