DÁIL PRIVILEGE ROW: Rights body questions legal advice to media over O’Brien gag

RTÉ welcomed the clearance from the High Court yesterday to report Dáil debates concerning billionaire businessman Denis O’Brien, saying it sent out an important message to TDs and the media.

DÁIL PRIVILEGE ROW: Rights body questions legal advice to media over O’Brien gag

However, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) said it was regrettable that journalists’ motives in wanting to report what was said in the Dáil had been questioned. The Irish Council of Civil Liberties said it was perplexed that media organisations had been led to believe they were under reporting restrictions and questioned their legal advice.

RTÉ deputy director general Kevin Bakhurst said it had been necessary to go to court to get clarity on the extent of the injunction.

“We very much welcome the fact that the judge has made it very clear that comments in the Dáil, both comments that have been made in the Dáil, and comments in the future in the Dáil are entirely covered by privilege and that we are free to report them. That’s an incredibly important message to send out to members of the Dáil and also members of the press,” he said.

NUJ Irish secretary Seamus Dooley described the clarification as “an unambiguous ruling in favour of democracy”.

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“The right of parliamentarians to speak under privilege is a cornerstone of our democracy and the right of the media to fairly and accurately report such proceedings is fundamental.

“Today is a good day for democracy and the determination will be warmly welcomed by all who believe in the democratic principles of our Republic,” he said.

“It is regrettable that motives have been imputed to journalists and the media organisations whose sole purpose was the reporting of statements made under parliamentary privilege by an elected representative exercising her right under the constitution.”

ICCL executive director Mark Kelly questioned how there had ever been confusion over the media’s rights on Dáil reporting.

“Our Constitution protects Dáil speech and permits untrammelled reporting of that speech. The ICCL welcomes the restatement of these principles in the High Court today, but remains perplexed that legal advice could ever have led broadcasters and newspaper editors to believe otherwise.

“It is a fundamental principle of parliamentary democracy that the law must not be used to muzzle parliamentarians pursuing matters of public interest in good faith. The ICCL trusts, that, in future, journalists and editors will display the necessary courage of their convictions to defend that principle,” he said.

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