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Dublin: 10 °C Tuesday 22 October, 2019
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What did Denis O'Brien achieve by trying to stop THAT speech going public?

The Streisand effect in full swing.

THE STREISAND EFFECT: when an attempt by a high-profile person to remove information from public view has the effect of drawing far more attention and scrutiny to that information than it would have otherwise earned.

Why is it a phrase on Irish lips?

The Effect was perfectly illustrated over the past few days following independent TD Catherine Murphy’s speech in the Dáil on Thursday relating to the banking details of businessman Denis O’Brien.

TheJournal.ie reported those comments shortly after they were made on Thursday afternoon. Within one hour of the article being published, we received a letter from Denis O’Brien’s lawyers threatening TheJournal.ie with an injunction if the article was not removed by 5pm.

Similar letters winged their way to The Irish Times and Broadsheet.ie, claiming that publication of the comments was in breach of a previous injunction obtained by O’Brien against RTÉ on reporting of details of his banking relationship with IBRC.

Only this morning, did the High Court definitively rule that that injunction did not restrict the reporting of Catherine Murphy’s speech in the Dáil. (Some media outlets did choose to publish the details of the speech including Broadsheet.ie and The Sunday Times).

So now it can be read in full here… not that anyone who wanted to read the speech couldn’t do so until now.

How so?

While Broadsheet chose to leave their article up, the speech had also been available on the Oireachtas website and on Catherine Murphy’s channel on YouTube ever since it was delivered on Thursday.

Meanwhile over the bank holiday weekend, details of the speech were being widely posted and shared on Twitter and Facebook.

While TheJournal.ie was anxious to wait for the courts to give a clarification – for our future reference – to this unprecedented claim that our privilege to report on Oireachtas proceedings was trumped by a potential contempt of court, the reality for Denis O’Brien was that the information was on the ground and had gone viral.

Would that have happened had our initial report of comments which were made at the very end of the Order of Business on a quiet Thursday before a bank holiday weekend not been legally challenged? Or would the report have received some commentary but then slipped away into the ether?

Where does Barbara Streisand come into it?

Source: Kenneth & Gabrielle Adelman, California Coastal Records Project via californiacoastline.org

The expression ‘the Streisand effect’ dates to a 2003 attempt by US entertainer Barbara Streisand to halt publication of an aerial photograph of her Malibu home being used in a publicly available collection of 12,000 photos of California coastlines.

She took a $50 million lawsuit to stop the photograph of her house being included in the collection.

However, within the first month of legal letters being issued, an estimated 420,000 people visited the website which had published the photograph of her house. Before legal proceedings began, the image of her house had been downloaded a mere six times (two of which were by her own lawyers). It is arguable that had her legal eagles not gotten involved, few members of the public might have been alerted to the image.

More recently, a case in Australia earlier this year invoked the phrase when the country’s richest woman, Gina Rinehart, took legal action against a dramatic series based on her life called ‘House of Hancock’.

The judge said claims by her legal team “could close down all of Shakespeare plays” but in the end an out-of-court settlement was reached before its first broadcast.

The first episode – while carrying a “fictionalised” tag – saw more than two million viewers tune in. A review in the Sydney Morning Herald points out that, as a result of the hugely-publicised case, “no doubt, even more people watched” than might have had they not been directed to the possible real-life parallels by Rinehart’s own legal team.

Never heard of it

Last week, spokesperson for Denis O’Brien, James Morrissey, mentioned on Today FM’s The Last Word that he had never heard of the Streisand Effect.

International media, not falling within the jurisdiction of the Irish courts but whose articles were readily accessible to the Irish public online, published details of the story and of Catherine Murphy’s comments.

Twitter buzzed to the hashtags #redacted and #OBrienvMedia. If O’Brien’s advisors or spokespeople were unaware of the Streisand effect, four short days ago, they surely are aware of it now.

- additional reporting by Susan Daly

Read: Court ruling: Media free to report Dáil comments about Denis O’Brien’s debts>

Read: Here is the article that Denis O’Brien’s lawyers didn’t want you to see last Thursday>

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