Finally: Two Women Debate The Irish Daily Star Topless Debacle

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Dearbhail McDonald (top left), legal affairs editor of the Irish Independent, and Brenda Power (top right), columnist with the Irish Daily Mail and Sunday Times, and presenter of the RTE Radio One’s The Media Show, were on Frontline last night with Pat Kenny.

They discussed the fallout of the Irish Daily Star re-printing images of a topless Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge. The Irish Independent is a sister paper of the Irish Daily Star.

Pat was in rare form.

Pat Kenny: “Brenda, first of all, to publish or not to publish. If you were in the editor’s chair what would you have done?”

Brenda Power: “Well, personally, I probably wouldn’t have published those pictures, Pat, because I think they’re tasteless and I think they’re unpleasant. And, from a female point of view, it’s embarrassing and you can see it’s embarrassing for a young woman to have those photographs published. However, I would defend to the death Michael O’Kane’s right to publish them, without a threat of redundancy and closure hanging over this newspaper tonight.”

Kenny: “You say ‘publish anyway, irrespective of taste and decency’, is that it?”

Power: “No, but I mean I prefer an editor who was thought, who gave some thought to what his readers wanted, to what his audience wanted, to the sort of products that he was producing, which is a tabloid, than one who is looking over his shoulder to be aware of what his rich proprietor wanted for his agenda, to suit his agenda. And that seems to be the rock that Mick O’Kane [Irish Daily Star editor, now suspended]  has perished on. He didn’t do that.”

Kenny: “Now Dearbhail, you’re not going to speak on behalf of Independent News and Media at all.”

Dearbhail McDonald: “Well I think the Independent News and Media has had its say. It had its say in an editorial in the Irish Independent on Saturday, the paper which I write for. And it had its say this evening, when it decided, along with the other joint shareholder, Northern and Shell, to suspend Michael O’Kane, pending a full inquiry. So INM has had its say. For my own part, as a female, as a journalist who believes that there are stories that require breaches of privacy, sometimes gross invasions of privacy, to justify stories. And I say it as someone, you know, who has an ordinary view on it. I think the decision to publish those pictures was wrong. Had I been in the editor’s hot seat, I wouldn’t have published them. I think they breached good taste, decency. And I think they also breached the privacy of that young couple. Separate though, what we’re dealing with, there are two separate issues. One is the decision to publish. The second is the separate, but related, issue of Richard Desmond, a man who has made millions out of such worthy tomes as Horny Housewives, Asian Babes, and whatever else you’re having. What we’re dealing now with is an Irish newspaper and now with Alan Shatter’s absolute outrageous suggestion that he would bring in a Privacy Law on the back of this incident. What we’re now seeing is an Irish paper, in the Irish media industry, possibly becoming collateral damage just because Richard Desmond is protecting his commercial interests. Because this is what, this is the important context. You’re dealing with a post-Leveson landscape in the UK. And you’re also dealing with the fact that his Express newspapers, the core, the key, the jewel in the crown of that, is the Daily Express which is a pro-Royalist, pro-Monarchist newspaper. And I think it would be grossly amiss of any Government, and this is why I don’t believe that Alan Shatter’s views should be tolerated this evening. To allow Irish privacy laws to be determined by the British monarch.”

Kenny: “Come to that in a moment. But the newspapers own code of practice, actually I think it’s 5.5, says that you should not intrude on people in a private space without their express permission, expect where it is in the public interest to do so. So a drug dealer, a paedophile, maybe there are cases where you can make. For a young couple on holiday, there is no case that can be made. Or is there, Brenda?”

Power: “Well, the case that Mick O’Kane made originally was that if a paparazzo could zone in on the future queen of England, then maybe a sniper could do. Very volatile times in the Middle East as we know. The Libyan, or the American ambassador to Libya was assassinated last week and that row over that stupid film has spread to the diplomatic missions for the British and the French.”

McDonald: “So let’s show her breasts in full glory just to prove a point, Brenda?

Power: “No, hang on a second, I know people get annoyed when you make this argument but there are some terms and conditions that come with the role she has. And there is nowhere on earth, and that woman should know it by now, that she can strip down to her knickers in public. She was within full view of a public road, in view of a public road…”

McDonald: “It was only in full view because of technology, or because of a super-duper lense that allowed it.”

Power: “Fair enough, but she knew there were photographs taken of her on honeymoon, and her husband on honeymoon and she still went ahead and stripped off.

Kenny: Hang on a second. If she was in the confines of Buckingham Palace surrounded by four walls, technology, Google Earth, satellite, for example, would allow her to be taken..is there no place on earth that someone like that can actually take off their kit.”

Power: “Do you know what? Probably not because if there wasn’t. There wasn’t any similar hoohaa over Prince Harry, who took off his clothes in a hotel room.”

McDonald: “Now that’s a separate issue, I think the only person that breached Prince Harry’s, Prince Harry’s privacy was Prince Harry himself.”

Power: “But listen, there is security, I know it’s not an issue of Irish national interest. But there is a security issue here. I presumed she didn’t strip down to her smalls in front of the help so there was no security there.”

Kenny: “Isn’t this a bit of a red herring because the Press Code, to which I presume you both subscribe, says expressly that you don’t do things like the Star just did.”

Power: “But it does throw in the caveat that the public interest.”

McDonald: “And where is the public interest? Where is the public interest in showing her breasts in full glory, I don’t…”

Power: “This is a young couple who are…”

Kenny: “Can I just clarify with Brenda, are you saying that Michael O’Kane’s particular interest in this was saving the life, potentially, of a member of the Royal family.”

Power: “No, not for a minute, not for a minute. I’m not saying that, nor was that the interest of the paparazzo that was there. Not at all. But that is an arguable case which could be made before our very robust Press Complaints Commission.”

McDonald: “And I suppose, the issue that I would have with it, is that you know, you’d think, according to Alan Shatter’s statement tonight, that Ireland didn’t have any privacy laws. What people forget is that the Irish Government invented phone hacking back in the day, when journalists Geraldine Kennedy and Bruce Arnold had their phones tapped. That was one of the most important cases in Irish law on the right to privacy. Unlike the UK, we have a constitutional right to privacy, enshrined in the constitution, articulated in several cases. We had a case where Ruth Hickey, who’d a child with musician David Agnew, took a case to the High Court and lost on the grounds of privacy. In part, because the alleged breach of which she complained of, it was a public act, registering their son’s birth. But the, what really galls me about this is that we’re using a very British scandal to determine law in this country. And the problem is we have a Press Council, a very, very robust Press Council and that, that was our compromise, it was our compromise between the media and the State to avoid…”

Kenny: “Michael O’Kane, clearly, has no fear of this fairly robust Press Council.”

McDonald: “Well I’d think he does now. Tonight he’s been suspended.”

Kenny: “Ger Colleran, his boss, famously has said that he doesn’t see much difference between what the public are interested in and the public interest.”

Power: “But do you not think that’s a terribly po-faced view to take anyway. I mean if newspapers printed only what politicians and businessmen thought they ought to be interested in and fed them the diet that they felt was appropriate for them, newspapers would be two pages long. So, I mean, the papers are full and they thrive and long may they thrive, on feeding us entertainment, titillating, and yes, OK, intrusions.”

Kenny: “OK, Brenda, please, you are presenting The Media Show on RTE One, so it is interesting to find out what your attitude is to 5.5. I mean do you think there’s any case for two people who imagine, rightly or wrongly, they’re on an estate, somewhere well off the main road, they have no right to expect that their pictures won’t feature in the tabloid newspapers?”

Power: “Well I think the two people that you’re talking about are the prince and princess, and you know the future king and queen of England, I think they have to be mindful, having been, as I’ve said, already alerted to the fact that they were never safer anywhere, when they’re honeymoon pictures were printed in an Australian magazine a couple of months ago. I think they do have a duty to be mindful of their position.”

McDonald: “There’s a duty to be mindful and there’s a duty to respect their privacy aswell, just because they…”

Power: “Sadly, they don’t live in an ideal world.”

McDonald: “And I think, I’m not being po-faced. I recognise, as a serious current affairs journalist, that it’s often the work of our celebrity correspondents, our entertainment correspondents that probably keep us in a job. For my own part, as a journalist, I have conducted investigations, I have done acts that might be considered a breach of privacy, might be considered a gross invasion of privacy. And the reason that you cross that line, from time to time, is that the greatest scandals in this country and elsewhere, whether it’s a clerical sex abuse scandals, financial scandals, whatever, you name it. Abuse and corruption thrives in privacy and in order to expose it there has to be a breach of that privacy and, when journalists do that, when we cross that line, we do so in the hope and the expectation that the public interest is both your shield and your sword. But I don’t think we’re helping our case by a gratuitous breach.”

Kenny: “Two questions. One, on that very point, to Brenda, is the gratuitous breach, if that’s what you call it of 5.5 of your own code. If the consequence then is Alan Shatter bringing in a draconian privacy law, was that the wrong battle for Michael O’Kane to fight.”

Power: “Well I don’t think Michael O’Kane decided he was going to fight this battle, or chose to fight this battle. He clearly hadn’t thought this through, I would say, given that he has fallen foul of Richard Desmond, as you said a man who made his living in porn, but now maybe has his eye on a knighthood and so reckons this is why…”
Kenny: “But going back to 5.5…”

Talk over each other.

Kenny: “You don’t actually bother. None of you respect this 5.5 at all. That…”

Power: “No, I don’t think that’s the case. If you can make an arguable case for public interest, which is arguable in this case, you may feel it’s pretty flimsy but it is there.”

Kenny: “No, hang on a second, let’s get down to the nub of that. A public interest, that’s not to be construed as what the public are interested in?”

Power: “Yes.”

Kenny: “You think it is?”

Power: “No.”

Kenny: “It’s different?”

Power: “Yes.”

Kenny: “What is the public interest? How is it served by the picture of a young woman’s breasts?”

McDonald: “Because we saved her life from the Taliban? No, I don’t think so.”

Power: “But we may have alerted her to the fact that she was exposed in that way.”

McDonald: “I’m sure she’d be grateful by returning her gratitude with a High Court case. Look..if they were to come to Ireland. The Crown versus the Star, in my view, wouldn’t even get to the Four Courts because we have a privacy law which, in the constitution, in the Press Council code, ordinary ethics would dictate that that kind of suit probably would never get to a full hearing. And we have seen INM and others are not going to justify it.”

Power: “This will..We would not be talking about this, we would not be discussing it, if it wasn’t the case that Richard Desmond made a song and dance about it. It wouldn’t have..I don’t know too many people who actually paid too much attention to this, until it became an issue that might close down a national newspaper.”

McDonald: “And I think that’s why I drew the distinction earlier between the breach itself and the reaction to it. And I think, as Pat Rabbitte and as others have said, the reaction has been totally disproportionate to the breach itself. But I really, you know, even if it is, very, very famous people. Even if it is those, who court publicity. I still believe, fundamentally, that if human dignity is to be part of your personhood that you do have a right to privacy. I do believe…”

Kenny: “No matter how royal or otherwise you are?”

McDonald: “No matter, I mean, what if it was a sister of mine, or a mother of mine, who, you know, someone could say, well you were on the Frontline, spouting about privacy, here we’ve seen a picture of you and we’re gonna justify this picture of you because, well, because of who you are.”

Power: “Dearbhail, there is absolutely no connection…”

McDonald: “No, bring it back, Brenda, bring it back…”

Talk over each other.

Kenny: “Brenda, can I just ask you? I’m not sure, I’m not sure how many people in this room want to see your breasts. And whether they want to see them tomorrow morning in the Star. But if you were snapped, as you were in the changing room of Dunnes Stores or wherever you might be and that picture is taken on a telephone and it appears on the front of the Star. How would you feel?”

Power: “Well you know I wouldn’t be thrilled. You know, no more than I’d say the Star readers would be particularly thrilled. But the fact is, if somebody could argue why that was, you could make an arguable case, for why that was in the public interest. I’d at least give them a hearing.”

McDonald: “In the Four Courts probably, where you’d get significant damages for the breach.”

Later

 A guy in the audience said Kate was naive to be topless.

Kenny: “OK, You think she shouldn’t have taken off her kit, or they shouldn’t have published, or both? Which?”

Guy: “She shouldn’t have taken it off in the first place. She should have been aware of the potential consequences. Like it’s only three weeks ago or so since Prince Harry was involved in his little case.”

Kenny: “So even though she was miles off the road, or felt as if she was in a secluded place.”

Guy: “But it could have been taken from a public road, as Brenda pointed out herself.”

Kenny: “Well I must remember when I’m putting on my pyjamas not to take off my trousers first.”

Watch here