Denis, the Dáil and denying freedom of the press

Imagine living in a country where one single person edited every newspaper and every news bulletin on radio on TV.

If you live in Ireland, you don’t have to.

Because that’s exactly what Denis O’Brien did today.

Citing an injunction handed down recently to stop RTE broadcasting a story about his private finances, the businessman and major media owner used his lawyers to threaten and cajole anyone trying to report what went on in parliament.

That’s right – statements made in the Irish legislature were censored by a Maltese (for tax purposes, at any rate) businessman.

Front-page stories were ditched. Headlines were read out, but the details left untouched.

The story? There is no story. Move along. Nothing to see here, said Denis.

The fact that he is prepared to do that shows that Denis O’Brien is probably not fit to buy an Irish newspaper off a stand, let alone actually own one, and a few radio stations for good measure.

His childish, petulant response is more suited to a dictatorship than a democracy.

Denis claims that every citizen is entitled to privacy and to his or her good name, and that is true.

But equally, taxpayers lying on trolleys in hospitals are entitled know if O’Brien – probably the biggest beneficiary of corporate welfare in Ireland, as well as owner of several entities charging the state handsomely for their services- has received their money either in error or under less-than-onerous terms.

If businesses he owned or bought have had debts written off, especially at the expense of the taxpayer, it is in the public interest.

How Denis pays his electricity bill is his own private business.

But if he has got money off a state-owned bank bailed out and underwritten by the Irish people – who, to pay for it, have to pay water charges which no less than Denis O’Brien is profiting handsomely from – it’s in the public interest.

If he has got contracts, deals or acquisitions featuring public money or state bodies without following due process, it’s in the public interest.

O’Brien originally tried to shut down the interest rate story by reverting to the courts. The intervention of Catherine Murphy – who has behaved impeccably – has now moved the story on.

I hate to break it to you Denis, and in fairness I’m surprised it’s me that has to do it given the amount of media bods that surround you, but the injunction you got is not worth the paper it’s written on.

The story has moved on.

The genies is out of the bottle.

And he ain’t going back in anytime soon.

And this is what upsets Denis the most.

No matter how much he pays, we cannot un-know what we now know.

But his reaction is that which is typical of the powerful.

Threaten. Cajole. Denigrate.

How dare these proles stand up to me?

Stand up they have, and they will continue to do so.

Fair play to those at RTE like Keelan Shanley who continued, despite their hands being tied by useless legal advice, to challenge.

The operators at Broadsheet were equally brave.

I wonder, though, about those at Independent Newspapers and in Marconi House, who were either deathly silent or merely gave passing mention to a mini-constitutional crisis, just a week after one of the proudest moments in the history of our democracy.

If I were them and my reporting was being blunted by an owner seemingly only out to serve himself, I would seriously question whether my job, along with my paper or station, was worth having at all.

Being freelance may be an insecure life, but I’d rather my career die because I stood up for something I believe in – freedom of speech and freedom of the press – than be on my knees in front of Denis and his high-priced lawyers.

Note: Today Our Man In Stockholm filled in the forms to register as a publisher in Sweden, meaning that articles and reports can be published here under Swedish media law, rather than the draconian legislation that allows the powerful to sue the press into silence. More news as it breaks…

 

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