PCC joins calls for Ireland to abandon privacy law

The UK Press Complaints Commission today joined a chorus of international condemnation for privacy laws currently being proposed in Ireland.

Under the proposed law, news organisations who publish private information about public figures could face legal action before publication.
Use of surveillance footage (eg. CCTV), letters, diaries or medical records could all be covered by the law.

The privacy law is being proposed at the same time as the establishment of a press council in Ireland to regulate the country’s press.

In an unusual step, press self-regulatory bodies across Europe have issued a joint statement condemning the move.

The issue was discussed at the annual meeting of the Alliance of Independent Press Councils of Europe in Sofia, Bulgaria.

The joint statement said the bodies “were concerned to hear that efforts to create a self-regulatory press council in Ireland may be thwarted by proposed new privacy legislation.”

It added: “They hoped that the press in Ireland would still be given a chance to demonstrate that a self-regulatory system can promote high journalistic standards and deliver effective redress for complainants, while protecting freedom of expression in the media.

"The existence of imposed regulations to govern the editorial content of newspapers and magazines would be likely to make the practice of self-regulation impossible.

“Self-regulation of the press is the norm throughout Europe, including Eastern Europe where many new press councils have recently been established”.

The International Federation of Journalists has also condemned the proposed law, as has the NUJ.

Aidan White, General Secretary of the IFJ, has called on the Republic's Justice Minister Michael McDowell to engage in discussions with the NUJ and with editors and proprietors rather than just enforce the legislation without consultation.

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.”

The privacy law could have wide ranging implications for UK newspapers – many of which publish Irish editions.

Picture: PCC chairman Christopher Meyer. 

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