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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Bad night for Ireland but an appalling night for Lenihan

I have often been critical of the decisions that Brian Lenihan has taken as Minister for Finance. In the last year I have blogged about how government decisions on NAMA, banking, pay and budgetary cuts have impacted on the country. As line minister Brian Lenihan is responsible for these but he acted at the behest of a collective cabinet. All ministers share the responsibility of their decisions in cabinet. I am implacably opposed to many of the decisions this government has made.

However I’m shocked at how news of the minister’s health has been released by TV3. Surely the channel that learnt just 2 days ago of the minister’s condition should have sat on the news? The minister has said that he’ll meet the press early in the new year. Do I have the right to know about the minister’s serious health concern now? I don’t think so. This is, in my view, an invasion of the minister and his families privacy. Where exactly is the line between the public’s right to know and the individual’s right to privacy? It seems to me that the TV channel has gone too far on this. While RTE reported the matter there was no reportage nor expert opinion nor indeed effective obituary of the minister as TV3 reported. I’m certain that the TV3 report will be the basis of a complaint to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of Ireland on the basis that it infringed the Minister’s right to privacy.
Given the reality of 24 hour electronic media and the right of anyone to use this information as they see fit, it was certain that some sick clown would find the space to level at the minister and already a facebook page has been set up hoping that the minister dies of a tumour. While the TV channel is not directly responsible for the clown’s behaviour, the reality is that the page wouldn’t be there but for the nature of the news report. When TV3 comes looking for a better share of the TV license fee I wonder what the response for the government will be?
John Crown is an eminent Oncologist and advocate for a better health service in this country. I respect him greatly however tonight he did himself or his views any good by allowing himself to be interviewed in relation to the matter. The nature of a 2 minute piece to camera speculating on the possible outcomes for someone who is not his patient is bad taste. My respect for him is less tonight as indeed it is for Michael O’Leary who published ads lampooning Mary O’Rourke (Lenihan’s aunt) at the time of her own husband’s death.
There have to be boundaries in public life and the need for a different news angle so as to attract viewers cannot dictate the norms in relation to an individual’s privacy. I don’t like to attack the media but having seen TV3 tonight it deserves a rap on the knuckles this time. I now fear that tabloid papers will rush in where TV3 has gone. Nobody will come well out of this. Rightly Brian Lenihan will get the sympathy of the Irish people but the media will get a bashing that they haven’t got since the wrongly reported on the death of Liam Lawlor. Bad night for Ireland but an appalling night for the Lenihan’s. I wish him well and hope that his health recovers.


francis mahon said...

Joe, this post, when read in conjunction with the previous one seems somewhat incongruous. Where does Adams' right to privacy end and Lenihan's begin?

Unknown said...

I cannot see any connection so what between a TV3 company reporting a person's health and UTV exposing the fact that Gerry Adams admitts knowing for 22 years about abuse alegations made in relation to his brother. Child abuse allegations are a serious matter under the penal code, on the other hand the law should protect a person's right to privacy.
BTW if I in my professionla capacity sat on the allegation that Gerry Adams kept schtum about for 22 years, I'd be out the door of my school. No comparison whatsoeever!

Unknown said...

Joe good article and it is attracting lots of comments including Mark Little's twitter web alerts. - "thanks to @efdel for alerting me to excellent post on Brian Lenihan/TV3 story by Eoin O'Dell (@cearta)
2 Personally, I know too many people who are suffering this year from illness and most need time to get come to grips with their medical issues personally and then how to share their suffering with the wider community of family and friends.This support network is essential at this time. Trying to come to grips with these persoanl issues , in the glare of the press is ridiculous. In life, family must come first and the media should respect this. In term of capability and public interest, the story was broken much too soon and was done for sensational and media ratings - public nor private interest was not being served. A rap on the knuckles is too light a punishment, some real action should be taken - roll on some decent privacy laws in the Dail next session !!!

Unknown said...

Thanks Marty for your comments, I don't know if a complaint into any alleged breach of privacy has been dealt with under broadcasting complaints. I would prefer to see how any complaint could be processed before I'd support privacy legislation. I believe the present porcess is more transparent than one where an editor can be obliged to account for any decision.
About 70 years ago the British media were deferential to the royal family and refused to print in UK papers what was common knowledge elsewhere about Edward adn Mrs Simpson. Do we want our media playing second fiddle to the establishment? Is it ultimately in society's interest? I don't think so. I would be concerned that privacy legislation would be used by corupt politicians to protect them against a bona fide accountability.
Here's a question, 20 years ago, could CJH have cited privacy to hide his act in defrauding Brian Lenihan senior's transplant cash citing the privacy of Lenihan's own father's serious illness? Could claims of privacy have fended off questions about corruption? How can you frame privacy legislation to allow bona fide questions about private matters where possibly criminal acts have occurred?