THE new Press Ombudsman and Press Council will be given two years to establish new modes of behaviour for the Irish media and avoid the necessity for introducing privacy legislation.
Justice Minister Brian Lenihan was speaking at a reception last night at the House of Lords in the Bank of Ireland in College Green, Dublin, to mark the opening of the Press Council and the Press Ombudsman's office.
"I have decided the Ombudsman should be given an opportunity to establish himself and the credibility of his office and therefore the privacy legislation will not be proceeded with for two years," Mr Lenihan said.
He also criticised some "serious abuses" of privacy by the media and cited "a number of exceptionally disreputable articles" published about dead people in recent years.
"I've told the Ombudsman I want that issue addressed. It's totally against the customs of this country. If it can't be collectively addressed by the media organisations themselves, I'm afraid we will have to proceed to legislation on it."
The Minister also said he intended to proceed with defamation legislation in the early part of this year.
The new Press Ombudsman, former journalist and Labour TD, MEP and Senator, Professor John Horgan, will operate with the Press Council to provide an independent system to allow members of the public complain about articles printed in newspapers and magazines.
The public can make complaints to the Ombudsman, who is already investigating some cases, although they will have to write to the publication concerned first.
The Ombudsman can refer significant or difficult cases to the Press Council.
The chairman of the Press Council, Professor Tom Mitchell, said the council's independent status represented an "innovative third way" which would ensure freedom from both State and industry interference.
The 13-member council will operate by a code of practice, elements of which include truth and accuracy, privacy, and fairness and honesty.
It will not be able to impose fines, but publications must publish in full any decisions made about a complaint.
Present at the opening yesterday were several national newspaper editors, including Gerry O'Regan of the Irish Independent, Ger Colleran of the 'Star' and Tim Vaughan of the 'Irish Examiner'.
Also present was Independent News and Media chief executive Vincent Crowley as well as Chief Justice John Murray and former Chief Justice Ronan Keane.