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Press Freedom

Shatter launches stinging attack on 'contrived' journalism

The minister for justice tells a Seanad debate that some journalists omit important facts in order to scandalise the public.

THE JUSTICE MINISTER Alan Shatter has launched a major attack on the values of some journalists working in Ireland, accusing them of wilfully looking to omit details of stories in order to put forward a “contrived narrative”.

Speaking during a Seanad debate on privacy, Shatter said some journalists now working in this country had less interest in publishing wholly truthful stories, backed up by good sources, than seeking to scandalise the public and attract interest.

“Speed in reporting an issue is regarded by some as a greater value than accuracy,” Shatter said, “as is a contrived narrative that will either attract substantial public interest, or scandalise readers.

Where inconvenient facts undermine the desired narrative, there are some journalists who will wilfully omit them from the story written and published. In this context, our defamation laws are of crucial importance.

Senators had been debating legislation put forward by David Norris which would have made the breach of someone’s privacy a formal ‘tort’, or civil wrongdoing. The legislation contained provisions allowing the use of CCTV and for the breach of privacy in the act of newsgathering, under certain conditions.

“It is extraordinary how newspapers and some journalists who proclaim a commitment, in the public interest, to hold others to account for their actions, seek to avoid and evade accountability where by inaccurate reporting they do damage to the reputations of individuals innocent of accusations made.

“In my experience there is an extraordinary reluctant to apologise and acknowledge mistakes made,” he said.

Shatter also raised concern that some newspapers and journalists would simply rely on the financial clout of their publishers, and the cost and difficulty of pursuing legal action against them, to ward off any complaints against them.

The minister remarked, however, that there were still “many good journalists” who respected traditional ethics such as the publication of a full story backed up by reliable and accountable sources.

Fine Gael and Labour senators are set to vote against Norris’s bill, with Shatter explaining that he did not oppose its substance, but rather its timing.

He added that legislation brought forward by Michael McDowell in 2006 – which has still to be passed by the Oireachtas – would achieve much of the same goals, and that the government would seek to introduce this legislation later in its tenure.

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