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Revival of privacy bill sparks concerns in media

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Prof Tom Mitchell (left), Press Council; Justice Minister Dermot Ahern and Press Ombudsman Prof John Horgan at the launch of the council's first annual report yesterday

Prof Tom Mitchell (left), Press Council; Justice Minister Dermot Ahern and Press Ombudsman Prof John Horgan at the launch of the council's first annual report yesterday

Prof Tom Mitchell (left), Press Council; Justice Minister Dermot Ahern and Press Ombudsman Prof John Horgan at the launch of the council's first annual report yesterday

CONTROVERSIAL legislation on privacy is to be revived and substantially amended, Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said yesterday.

Announcing the move, the minister insisted that the Privacy Bill (2006) created no new law and posed no threat to investigative journalism.

But the umbrella body representing the national newspaper industry asserted last night there was no need for further privacy legislation at this time.

The National Newspapers of Ireland (NNI) said it believed additional legislation was unnecessary.

"NNI believe the Press Council has proven itself an effective means through which to defend an individual's right to privacy in the vast majority of circumstances," it said in a statement.

"It is also the NNI's view that the privacy rights of citizens are adequately protected through our Constitution, the European Convention on Human Rights as well as by Irish and European case law.

Mr Ahern chose the publication of the first annual report of the Press Council of Ireland and the Office of the Press Ombudsman yesterday to reveal his intention to revive the contentious bill, which has been parked in the Seanad.

The minister said he was now looking closely at the provision of the Privacy Bill 2006 "in light of recent jurisprudence".

Mr Ahern insisted: "There is no threat, as some might assert, to investigative journalism that rightly seeks to hold Government, institutions, the State, business and other organisations up to scrutiny."

But Press Council chairman Professor Tom Mitchell called for caution and said many cases of privacy could be satisfactorily resolved by the council. "Our feeling would be that it would be preferable if a decent interval were allowed for the council to build up a body of case law in respect of this and it would become clearer whether or not this legislation was necessary."

The annual report showed that of the 372 complaints about the print media received by the Press Council last year, 59pc related to a possible breach of the industry's code of practice.

Complaints

Of the 246 complaints considered by the office, 113 were not followed beyond a preliminary hearing; 92 cases were fully processed; 12 were successfully conciliated; while 35 were decided by Press Ombudsman John Horgan.

The report also reveals that a large number of third party complaints concerned just three articles published during the year which generated 75 complaints from members of the public -- about one fifth of the total number received.

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Two cases referred directly by the press council to the ombudsman are highlighted in the report. One concerned complaints that an article in the Irish Independent about Africa breached principle 8 of the code of practice dealing with incitement to hatred.


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