Monday 21 October 2019

NUJ seeks urgent meeting with INM

Independent House, Talbot Street, Dublin
Independent House, Talbot Street, Dublin

Conor Feehan and Shane Phelan

The National Union of Journalists is to seek an immediate meeting with Independent News & Media following reports that hard drives and emails of senior staff were searched without their permission.

The allegations - reported in the 'Sunday Business Post' yesterday - said that the company's former CEO, Robert Pitt, ordered a search of hard drives and emails of up to six editors, after a memo from his personal assistant was published in 'The Phoenix' magazine.

Speaking to the Irish Independent, the NUJ's Irish Secretary Séamus Dooley described the reported claims as "deeply disturbing" and said they "raise the most serious questions for the company".

"Editors must be able to exercise their duties without interference," he said.

"These revelations undermine the confidence of staff and of readers.

"Ultimately, it undermines faith in the company. We will be seeking an urgent meeting with management in the coming days."

He added: "Public confidence in journalism is based on trust. If editors cannot even trust their employer to respect confidential sources of information, the basis for public trust is undermined."

The 'Sunday Business Post' claimed that the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner (ODPC) is investigating the claims about the alleged search, which is believed to have happened in June 2015.

The alleged exercise was conducted at night, with hard drives reportedly removed and data copied, before the hard drives were returned.

This was allegedly done without the knowledge of the staff members involved.

The claims are reportedly being investigated by the ODPC, along with another major data breach which was uncovered by an investigation by the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) and involves former company chairman Leslie Buckley.

The ODPC said it would not comment on specific investigations. However, it said its inquiry into data breaches at Independent News & Media is "very much an evolving picture".

In a statement issued last night, Graham Doyle, head of communications with the ODPC, said a number of voluntary disclosures had been made to its office.

"We are examining a number of voluntary disclosures we have requested and received from a number of parties relevant to our statutory inquiry," Mr Doyle said.

"It is very much an evolving picture in which we cannot comment specifically now.

"As matters are evolving, it is also difficult to put a timeline on conclusion.

"What I can say is that we have a senior investigator, who is a qualified barrister, on our staff leading the investigation and a number of resources assigned to him actively progressing the inquiry."

The ODCE's inquiries at INM were prompted by a protected disclosure made by former chief executive Robert Pitt in November 2016.

In June, the president of the High Court approved an application by the ODCE for the appointment of inspectors to the media organisation.

A spokesperson for INM said they would not be commenting on the claims.

Former INM CEO Robert Pitt could not be contacted.

Irish Independent

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