Thursday, 23 June 2005
Michael McDowell (Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
I am in the process of finalising the details of the proposals for the defamation Bill and following Government approval, which I have obtained, I intend in due course to publish the heads of the draft Bill so that they are in the public domain. As in the case of other Bills, in the course of formal drafting I will take account of the comments I receive on publication of the draft heads.
I confirm, as indicated in response to questions in the House on a number of occasions, that the Bill will contain provisions in regard to a press council, a press ombudsman and a press code of standards.
The Legal Advisory Group on Defamation Report in 2003 suggested a particular model involving a State appointed press council. That model did not attract me. The approach I favour is statutory recognition by way of a resolution to be moved in both Houses of the Oireachtas, of an independent organisation which would request to be recognised as the press council of Ireland for the purposes of the legislation. Recognition would bring certain privileges such as immunity from action in respect of its decisions, judgments and directions. I also envisage that such a press council would have, as its central focus, a code of standards supported by and subscribed to by print media organisations with operations in the State. Such a code of standards would provide an additional protection for citizens' privacy from media intrusion and harassment. It is also envisaged that the press ombudsman would be established by the press council to deal with complaints from those affected by breaches of the code of standards. One of the major issues in regard to a press council is the question of who will select the independent members and whether they will be genuinely independent because it cannot be a poodle of the media, no more than it can be a poodle of the Government.
The focus of efforts before and during my time as Minister has been on reform in the area of defamation but in the meantime there have been notable developments of jurisprudence in the area of privacy in the European Court of Human Rights, in English courts and in our own courts. There is a view that the developing jurisprudence in this area, as well as the capacity of our courts to develop the principles of law on a case by case basis, could have been sufficient to protect the privacy of persons. However, the Government's considered view is that the area is worthy of study with a view to seeking an appropriate legislative basis for the protection of privacy which would be consistent with freedom of expression. I am in consultation with the Attorney General with a view to progressing that matter. The details of any proposals for legislation on the privacy area will be announced in due course following the Attorney General and myself working on the issue and bringing the matter to Government.