New laws to protect journalistic sources 'to be considered'

TaoiseachLeo Varadkar Photo: Collins

Kevin Doyle

New laws to protect journalistic sources are to be considered by the Government in the wake of controversy over an alleged data breach at Independent News & Media (INM).

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said the time has come to "dust down" reports on strengthening media independence and to consider fresh legislation.

"Having independent news and media is a cornerstone of our democracy," Mr Varadkar told the Dail.

"Journalists must be free to pursue stories that they want to pursue. Their sources should be protected and free from any unjust interference, external or internal."


He was responding to Fianna Fail's Micheal Martin and Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald, who raised the Office of Director of Corporate Enforcement's (ODCE) investigation in INM, which publishes the Herald.

The ODCE is seeking to appoint High Court inspectors to investigate corporate governance issues at INM.

Among the accusations is that email records, including some belonging to journalists, were taken from company headquarters and examined by third parties in 2014.

Mr Varadkar commended the journalists who have reported on the story in recent weeks "including journalists in Independent News & Media, who have not allowed their independence to be compromised".

"The reported data breaches represent a very significant threat to the freedom of our press but the way in which the media have responded to this threat to date should reassure us that our press will not be silenced," he added.

Mr Martin said there is a "real and deep concern" about the case before the High Court because "an independent and free media is essential to the operation of a parliamentary democracy".

"Recent events serve as a wake-up call for the Oireachtas to consider legislation to deal with these issues on several fronts," Mr Martin said.

He pointed to a report last year by former Chief Justice John Murray on the protection of journalistic sources.

"It states we should have specific national legislation for source protection, with its legal foundation being the right to freedom of expression, including press freedom and privacy," Mr Martin said.

The Fianna Fail leader also sought assurances from the Taoiseach that the Director of Corporate Enforcement is indemnified by the State following accusations from businessman Denis O'Brien that his office leaked information in court papers relating to the INM case.

Mr O'Brien warned that he will hold Ian Drennan "fully and personally responsible for all such failings".

Mr Martin said: "No agent of the State should have to work under that sort of intimidatory cloud hanging over him."

In her contribution, Ms McDonald questioned whether the ODCE has enough resources to deal with such cases.

"There is no doubt that the office is up against it because of a lack of resourcing and support on the Taoiseach's watch, and on the watch of previous governments," she said.