Minister to review press standards mechanisms next year

 

SEANAD:THE JURY was out on how well our current mechanisms – both statutory and voluntary – were dealing with the upholding of necessary press standards, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said.

He would review next year how that architecture was working. While describing a privacy Bill tabled by David Norris (Ind) as “premature”, the Minister said it represented a significant milestone on the road to statutory reform in this area, should it be required.

Mr Shatter said the outcome of the Leveson Inquiry in Britain might contain important lessons for the future regulation and conduct of the media in regard to the violation of privacy.

“We share many of the same media outlets and influences, but we would hope none of the significant defects and behaviour involved. We have seen some shocking revelations as to the methods used by media to obtain information about private citizens, very little involving the public interest but solely for commercial gain. Similar outrages in this jurisdiction, I am sure Senators would agree, would merit and would receive a swift response.

“Abuse of the necessary freedoms afforded to the media in a democracy is a serious matter.”

Responding to a statement by the Minister, that no substantial evidence had so far come to light that the indefensible excesses of the British tabloid media had been applied to prey on individuals in this State, Mr Norris said there was such evidence and he undertook to provide the Minister with it over the coming months.

It should be kept in mind that the likely beneficiaries of reform of privacy law were not just celebrities but ordinary people who could find themselves in the media spotlight for a variety of reasons, the Minister said.

The privacy provisions in the Press Council’s code of practice was useful, but its members must continue to be willing to subscribe to the standards that had been set down. The relative success of the council in the upholding of standards “and in the prevention of much that might be called media outrages, stood in stark contrast to the role of the Press Complaints Commission in the UK”.

To be fair to the Irish media, figures for last year had shown a low level of complaints in regard to privacy.

Mr Norris said he had correctly prophesied that the Defamation Act had been introduced at the instigation of editors to give them greater freedom to trample over the rights of people. The Press Council had done some good work and the Press Ombudsman had done likewise. But they had no real sanctions at their disposal. He still believed that the council was a complete and utter farce.

Feargal Quinn (Ind), a co-sponsor of the Bill said that some would argue that our standards were too strict in relation to the media.