High Court Ruling against Irish Times Deserves Support
The recent High Court ruling against the Irish Times because of its refusal to comply with instructions from the Mahon Tribunal represents a commendable defence of democratic principle and deserves public support.
By destroying documents requested by the Tribunal, the Irish Times engaged in what the authors of the Judgement rightly call “an astounding and flagrant disregard of the rule of law”. According to the Judgement, the journalists “cast themselves as the adjudicators of the proper balance to be struck between the rights and interests of all concerned. This is a role reserved by the Constitution and the law exclusively to the courts.”
The arrogance underlying its dealings with the Tribunal, highlighted in this ruling, is also evident in some of the paper's publishing activity. Thus on the Irish Times website, a section entitled, “Message from the Editor” under a heading, “About Us”, states:
“Most important of all, The Irish Times occupies a special position as a pacemaker for change in the society which it serves. We aim to lead and shape public opinion to a greater degree than any of our competitors because we have both the natural authority and the means, through our interested and receptive readership, to do so.”
Unfortunately many other Irish media organizations have seen fit to defer to this self-appointed leading role of the Irish Times, thereby creating an unhealthy ‘media consensus' across many topics.
When, during the High Court proceedings in July, counsel for the Irish Times referred to this role the paper claims for itself, of educating public opinion, the President of the High Court, Mr Justice Johnson, made an apposite comment. He suggested that ‘educating public opinion' amounted to "slanting" opinion in such a direction as to coincide with the editorial direction of the paper.
The following extract from an Irish Times editorial provides a further example of the journalistic mentality that, in the words of the High Court ruling, poses “an affront to democracy”.
from An error of judgement Sep 28th 2006
“The removal of a Taoiseach from office can be a long and painful process, as both Charles Haughey and Albert Reynolds found to their cost.”
Fortunately, following the General Election, the paper's power to remove Taoisigh turned out to be weaker than imagined.
Notwithstanding the paper's claims to champion democracy and openness, it is surprisingly reticent about its own internal affairs. Incredibly in this day and age, the Directors and Editor of the Irish Times are required to make an annual oath not to divulge information about the paper. Similarly there has never been a satisfactory explanation provided about documentary evidence concerning its former Managing Director, Major Thomas McDowell's connections with the British Government.
All things considered, the High Court ruling represented a good day's work for Irish democracy that will hopefully be endorsed by the Supreme Court and, if relevant, the European Court of Human Rights.
Village apologises for the late publication of this post, sent by Daithi O hAilbhe of The Irish Political Review Group. Village's remiss in that regard prompted the following message from Daithi:
Publishing Criticism of the Media
A necessary test of the Irish media's commitment to the value of free expression, is the extent to which it allows criticism of itself to be published. On behalf of the Irish Political Review Group I submitted a press statement supporting the High Court's judgement against the Irish Times last week. It was not published or broadcast in any media outlet. Specifically it has not been published in the Village blog section.
Village magazine advertises itself as publication in which critiques of the media can be found and it does regularly publish such critiques. Its blog section also deserves credit and support as a space in which minority views are published. It cannot be underestimated how the creation of such a haven of free speech provides a precious asset to Irish public life. It effectively makes the society bigger.
By not publishing the IPR Group statement, the editors of Village are showing that they are not above using the power of their position as a conduit of minority opinion to suppress views of which they disapprove.
Of course readers may suspect that our statement was too irrational or too insignificant to be published. In that case they can judge for themselves by reading the statement in the November Irish Political Review which can be got through http://www.atholbooks.org/magazines/iprgroup/press_1.php.
Daithi O hAilbhe