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Politicians, not public, want laws on privacy

Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

Politicians are 'crusading' for stricter privacy laws despite just one-in-five formal complaints coming from the public.

A survey of Irish journalism reveals that two thirds of privacy complaints against newspapers and broadcasters come from public figures, particularly politicians, with only one fifth from private citizens.

The Dublin City University review of complaints about unethical journalism, from 1973 to 2008, has found that invasion of privacy, intrusion upon grief, perceived imbalance, bias, inaccuracy and conflicts of interest topped people's concerns about journalism ethics.

But the vast majority of complainants were politicians, prompting criticism that planned privacy laws are designed to muzzle the press.

The study, funded by the university's Institute of Ethics, examined all available material from formal complaints bodies -- such as the Broadcasting Complaints Commission or the Press Council/Ombudsman -- and records of Dail and Seanad debates on media controversies.

"If media coverage of ethical issues is occasionally hypocritical, it is hardly more so than parliamentary debate on the same issue," said survey researcher Simon Bourke.

"The evidence suggests that the emphasis on privacy issues in the public discourse on journalistic ethics is, in fact, being led by public figures and, particularly, by politicians."

Of 140 cases examined by DCU, half involved allegations of privacy, but not all were upheld by complaints bodies.


Seamus Dooley, Irish Secretary of the National Union of Journalists called for voluntary disclosure by journalists of potential conflicts of interest such as membership of a political party or share ownership.

"In assessing a report, the reader or listener is entitled to know what shapes the content, what factors contribute to the analysis and what informs a commentary presented as objective analysis.''

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"That means becoming more open, more honest and more direct in explaining what we do, how we do it and why we do it," Mr Dooley added.

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