Ireland to introduce privacy laws on back of Duchess of Cambridge photographs

 

Ireland is to introduce privacy laws on the back of the scandal over the publication of topless photographs of the Duchess of Cambridge.

Alan Shatter, Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, has taken the dramatic decision to revive abandoned legislation amid the continued fallout from the holiday images of the Royals.

The minister said some sections of the Irish print media placed no value on people's right to privacy.

"It is clear that some sections of the print media are either unable or unwilling in their reportage to distinguish between prurient interest and the public interest," he said.

With the threat of closure still hanging over the Irish Daily Star for re-running the images, the Government will reopen privacy legislation proposed several years ago and subsequently abandoned.

Mr Shatter hit out at standards among some of the print media.

"It is perceived financial gain as opposed to any principled freedom of expression that for some is the dominant value," he said.

"The publication by the Irish Daily Star in Ireland of topless photographs of Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, is a clear illustration of this.

"It is clear that sections of the print media believe that public figures are fair game and have no right to privacy in respect of any aspect of their lives."

Ireland's Press Ombudsman Professor John Horgan said his office had not received any complaints about the Irish Daily Star's Saturday edition.

"I have had a number of queries about the publication in the Irish Daily Star of photographs of the Duchess of Cambridge," he said.

The newspaper is jointly owned by publishing baron Richard Desmond's Northern and Shell and the Ireland-based Independent News and Media (INM), now controlled by media and telecoms tycoon Denis O'Brien.

Mr Desmond has said he wants it shut down with insiders at his corporation warning "he says what he means, and means what he says".

The Irish Daily Star is signed up to industry regulations under the Press Council of Ireland.

Up to 120 permanent and freelance editorial jobs are at risk at the newspaper, which has been operating out of Dublin since its foundation in 1987.

The Irish Daily Star did not refer in today's edition to the decision to re-run pages from French magazine Closer, the first to publish the images.

But it did carry photographs and a story about the latest stage of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's trip to the Solomon Islands.

INM is launching an internal investigation into the decision to publish although it has already warned that it viewed publication as a "poor editorial decision".

Mr Shatter said the lives of public personalities and private individuals are detrimentally affected by the actions of some papers.

"It seems that no value of any nature is attached to an individual's right to privacy," he said.

Mr Shatter plans to revive Ireland's Privacy Bill 2006. It will be reviewed to consider changes in the context of developments over the last six years.

"What is needed is balanced legislation that does nothing to inhibit proper investigative journalism, the reporting of news and the expression of opinion on issues of genuine public interest in a manner that respects the ethos and values of a constitutional democracy but which also prevents the abuse of an individual's human rights and flagrant violation of an individual's right to privacy," he said.

On Saturday, Michael O'Kane, editor of the Irish Daily Star, robustly defended the decision to run the images.

The National Union of Journalists in Dublin criticised Mr Desmond's threat to shut down the Irish operation and accused him of double standards on the basis of some of his business interests, including the adult Television X channel.

A spokesman for INM said the focus today was on getting the investigation into the editorial decision up and running and described lines of communication between the shareholders as fluid.

Meanwhile, Pat Rabbitte, Communications Minister in the Irish Government, branded the closure threat hypocritical.

"I don't think it was especially good taste by the Irish Star," Mr Rabbitte said.

"But I think there's a great dollop of hypocrisy on the part of the (British) part-owner of the paper."

The minister described the editorial decision to run with the images as a slip but said Mr Desmond's reaction was totally disproportionate.

Later he told Newstalk radio: "I take with a grain of salt the notion of shutting down the paper. I presume Mr Desmond is playing to a particular audience.

"This will blow over as quickly as it blew up. I wouldn't be minded to lose a lot of sleep about it. I don't think he could justify taking such an action."

PA

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