So, now it is official. When the Irish media decided, almost en masse, to censor Catherine Murphy’s Dail remarks about Irish media billionaire Denis O’Brien, they had no way of knowing whether the High Court injunction at the centre of the affair claimed supremacy over Dail privilege.
This means that The Irish Times, RTE and other mainstream Irish media, not knowing if the injunction was intended to over-ride Dail privilege, decided to play it safe and crumbled in the face of O’Brien’s massive wealth.
Rather than risk irritating the great man and prompting him to launch a legal action, which a first year law student could have told them he could never win, they chose to silence an elected representative and deny their readers access to words she spoke in their parliament.
Not one significant Irish media organisation opted for the principled alternative: publish Catherine Murphy’s remarks, let O’Brien challenge the action in the courts, if he dared, and mobilise public and political opinion against the arrogance and hubris of Ireland’s 0.01%.
Reports today arising out of a belated legal action taken by RTE say that the judge at the centre of the legal controversy, Mr Justice Donald Binchy, will make public tomorrow (Wednesday) the reasons he granted O’Brien an injunction preventing RTE from broadcasting a documentary dealing with the billionaire’s acquisition of SiteServ.
None of the Irish media therefore knew what the judge had said about the scope of his injunction before they blacked Catherine Murphy’s speech.
The thirty-some years of the Northern Troubles saw the Irish media hit some low points, involving both the acquiescent acceptance of State censorship and the enthusiastic practicing of self-censorship, but the O’Brien-Murphy affair is its own, unique, sad and shameful chapter in the narrative of Irish journalism.