IFJ Urges Defeat of Planned Irish Privacy Law that Will Stifle Journalism

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its regional European group, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) today called on the Irish government to abandon plans for a draconian privacy law due to come before parliament this autumn.

On the eve of a major conference by the National Union of Journalist (NUJ), Aidan White, General Secretary of the IFJ, called on the Republic's Justice Minister Michael McDowell to engage in discussions with the NUJ and with editors and proprietors rather than enforce legislation which media lawyers say will prevent Irish journalists from doing their job.

The IFJ says newspapers and broadcasters will find themselves embedding lawyers into their newsrooms to fight off privacy injunctions.

Séamus Dooley, Irish Secretary of the NUJ, says the union has commissioned eminent media lawyer Andrea Martin to analyze the bill.

Ms. Martin's finding to the Dublin conference tomorrow raise concerns about a number of provisions in the bill, including the proposed sweeping power to grant injunctions, a ban on the use of information gained from public records and a provision whereby a range of court hearings may be heard in private.

Ms. Martin has concluded that, “the bill has the potential to stifle legitimate journalistic investigation on matters of public interest.”

The IFJ’s White said:  “This bill makes provision for the act of ‘newsgathering’ to be a defence, in limited circumstances. That term is so imprecise that it is useless - I do not believe you will find it in any other jurisdiction. The bill makes no reference to the public interest. Any bill governing the activities of the media must allow for the defence that a journalist acted in the public interest. This bill comes at a time when the NUJ is working with newspaper publishers to establish a Press Council. I understand there has been close co-operation with the Minister for Justice and his officials on this measure and on the reform of the Irish libel laws. For the Irish Government to undermine this process by publishing a privacy bill without consultation is outrageous.”

The European Convention on Human Rights is already incorporated into Irish law and the superior Irish courts are obliged to take the provisions of the convention into account. The Supreme Court in Ireland has already established the right to privacy so there is no need for new legislation. This is a law to stifle the media and it will lead to powerful people seeking gagging writs to prevent Irish journalists doing their job.

What Irish journalism - and the Irish public - do not need is legislation which will lead to lawyers being imbedded into newsrooms, dictating what may or may not be published and broadcast.

White said that the move by the Irish government is being monitors across Europe and that the EFJ will be represented at the Dublin conference.

For more information, contact the IFJ at +32 2 235 2207

The IFJ has more than 500,000 members in over 100 countries worldwide