Journalistic principles v The law

The High Court has ordered the editor of The Irish Times, Geraldine Kennedy and its Public Affairs Correspondent, Colm Keena, to comply with the Mahon Tribunal.

In September 2006 The Irish Times published an article giving details of Mahon Tribunal investigations being made into payments made to Bertie Ahern in 1993.

The tribunal summonsed journalist Colm Keena and Editor Geraldine Kennedy before it and asked them questions about the source of the information they printed.

Their refusal to answer led the tribunal to seek High Court orders compelling them to do so.

The critical aspect of this case seems to be the deliberate destruction of documents that would have identified the source of the leak after the journalists had received a summons to produce them to the tribunal.

It’s likely that if they had destroyed the documents before being ordered to produce them the traditional Irish fudge could have been ultilised in order to avoid facing the reality of the situation.

As it was not even an Irish court could accept such a challenge to the law. The court said:

“The deliberate decision taken by the journalists to destroy the documents at issue in the case after they had received a summons to produce them to the tribunal was an astounding and flagrant disregard for the rule of law.

“In doing this the defendants had cast themselves as the adjudicators of the proper balance to be struck between the rights and interests of all concerned, a role reserved by the Constitution and the law exclusively for the courts and it said that such a manner of proceeding is anathema to the rule of law and an affront to democratic order and if tolerated is the surest way to anarchy.”

According to an RTE report ( 2nd item); “the decision to destroy the documents was a relevant consideration in deciding what weight should be give to the arguments on both sides.”

Clearly, Geraldine Kennedy and Colm Keena passionately believe that the uncovering of corruption is sometimes more important than obeying the law. Kennedy said;

“We had an important story which we wanted to publish in the public interest. We exist as journalists to serve the people’s right to know.”

They may now have to serve time in jail to preserve their high journalistic principles.

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