The days of self-regulation of newspapers in Ireland could be numbered after the justice minister said he would revisit privacy legislation, following the decision by the Irish edition of the Daily Star to print pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge sunbathing topless.
In a strongly worded statement on Monday afternoon, Alan Shatter said he was going to return to Ireland's 2006 Privacy Act to "consider what changes should be made" and then "progress its enactment".
He added that despite the existence of a press regulator "some sections of the print media are either unable or unwilling in their reportage to distinguish between 'prurient interest' and 'the public interest'".
The threat is a blow to the Irish newspaper industry, which battled to stave off statutory regulation in 2003 and in the end successfully negotiated with the government to set up a regulatory system based around the independent Irish Press Council and a press ombudsman.
Shatter's remarks were made two days after the co-owner of the Irish Daily Star, Richard Desmond, threatened to close the paper following the decision to print the photographs, which have led to criminal proceedings for alleged breach of privacy in France, where they were first published on Friday by Closer magazine.
Such is the success of the regulator that it was frequently hailed as a potential model for Britain in the Leveson inquiry into press ethics, offering a regime that delivered decisions on complaints that was both independent of newspaper editors and had legal standing because of a statutory underpinning it was given at birth.
Shatter said the decision by some sections of the print media to breach privacy "detrimentally impacts upon the lives of both public personalities and private individuals and it seems that no value of any nature is attached to an individual's right to privacy.
"It is perceived financial gain, as opposed to any principled freedom of expression, that for some is the dominant value. The publication by the Irish Daily Star in Ireland of topless photographs of Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, is a clear illustration of this," he said, adding that some titles believe public figures are "fair game" and have no right to privacy.
"What is needed is balanced legislation that does nothing to inhibit proper investigative journalism, the reporting of news and the expression of opinion on issues of genuine public interest in a manner that respects the ethos and values of a constitutional democracy, but which also prevents the abuse of an individual's human rights and flagrant violation of an individual's right to privacy."
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