Tuesday 27 September 2016

Kevin Doyle: Without leaks this will be a secret society where authorities say nothing and hope we go away

Published 22/01/2016 | 02:30

Photo: depositphotos
Photo: depositphotos

Say nothing and they'll go away. That is more often than not the attitude of State authorities towards the media.

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For a modern, open society that has moved on from the dark days when nobody could question the decency and trustworthiness of the parish priest, it's a strange phenomenon.

There is a reason journalists rely on leaks and it's this: Officialdom doesn't want us or you to know what really goes on.

Of course every leak doesn't bring a Watergate, and admittedly some achieve little more than a bit of titillation, but without a flow of information from the civil servants, gardaí, politicians and others 'in the know' we would live in a very poor democracy.

Right now limited garda resources are being used to investigate how a journalist got access to CCTV of a road collision. That hardly seems like a good use of officers' time, especially as forces in other countries routinely hand out such footage.

Another probe saw a senior officer who was authorised to talk to the media arrested and questioned for doing just that.

Earlier this week Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan told this newspaper that her force "works very collaboratively with the media and the press in ensuring that actually our investigations are assisted as well in terms of getting public support".

In other words, Garda headquarters works well with the media when they need us. It's not a two-way street.

Rank and file officers are terrified to even be social friends with journalists in case it gets back to their superiors.

The default position of any State organisation at the centre of a controversy or breaking story is to bury their heads in the sand.

And perhaps that's not surprising when our politicians resolutely lead the way in this.

It took the Taoiseach five days to make his first utterances on the phone records saga - despite the fact that it had been widely reported last week.

This 'sit there, say nothing and hope it goes away' position filters through our State institutions.

Reporters on the beat face this on a daily basis and it isn't good for democracy.

A week on, GSOC remains silent despite the fact that it is a publicly funded body who should be clear and accountable to taxpayers.

Day after day they have thanked the Irish Independent for the opportunity to discuss why they felt the need to snoop on journalists' phone record but then said: "We are not commenting on any aspect of it".

And without leaks they will be allowed to get away with that 'secret society' attitude.

Irish Independent

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