Johnny Fallon

Irish Political Commentator

Privacy and Recordings – Why its not always an invasion

Privacy has yet again become an issue in Ireland. There is no doubt we all demand our privacy and want to be left alone at times. That should be respected by media. Nobody wants to have their house watched or snapped when out with their kids and so on. Photographs are however very different to sound recordings. This is where we must start to draw a line. Kate Middleton was photographed topless and it’s hard to argue that the snap was of any value except to sell papers and it was an invasion of privacy. Sharon Ni Bheolain was snapped wearing her pjs and walking the dog. Was it of any real interest? No. Did she have any control over it? No. That’s what made it unfair.

Now on the other hand, take a politician bemoaning the fact that they are recorded giving a private view. Take a Garda making comments in private. Take a public figure uttering any statement that they know they would not want the public to hear. Is that of interest? You bet your life it is. The public has a right to know and understand the views of those they interact with. In a modern world one would expect that recordings should never pose a problem as people should not say one thing in public and give another view privately. A politician should not ever say ‘I am pro choice’ and then secretly tell people, ‘I’m working against it really’. I have heard all sorts over the years. People defending traveller’s rights, and then going to meetings in quiet corners saying that the same travellers are a problem. People talking about immigration in a sensible way but then nodding and perpetuating the view privately that immigration is something to be tackled.

We all know the people who come to us and say ‘Don’t tell anyone I ever said this but…….’. There is nobody involved in politics who has not heard the line ‘Well of course we agree but we can’t ever say that publicly….’ This is exactly our problem. The invention of lying as an accepted form of communication is an evil that should be eradicated.

The very idea that I come to you and talk to you in the hope that you will never repeat my views is a shocking indictment of society’s thinking. If you are about to say something that you would not stand over in public, then surely you know there is something wrong with the statement, isn’t it sign to re evaluate it and not say it? This perception that seems to exist that politicians, doctors, Gardai or anyone else in power has a right to a private view as regards their work and a separate view they show to the public, is a cancer on the system.

Modern technology has advanced enough that people can be recorded. This should not be seen as a bad thing. Rather it should be seen as a warning to all those in positions of power that the age of lying should end. The view you hold should be the same in public or private and you should never be something you are not. It is not an invasion of privacy to have comments and views that you genuinely hold reported. The only problem occurs when you don’t want to stand over that view in which case it is you and not the person recording that has the issue.

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5 thoughts on “Privacy and Recordings – Why its not always an invasion

  1. Seamus McTague on said:

    I’m afraid human nature means that it is difficult never to be hypocritical

  2. Not difficult; impossible.

  3. You say:

    “In a modern world one would expect that recordings should never pose a problem as people should not say one thing in public and give another view privately. ”

    I disagree. If this were to become the case, politics would become impossible.

    I hear cheering, but it is from the deluded: without politics, societies cannot function, and we will all be worse off. “Fudging” the disparate and usually conflicting views of citizens is the vital function of politicians. Just look at the history of the Six Counties for an example of what happens when people insist on “plain speaking” when the opposite is needed.

    And, actually, most – or at least a large minority – citizens know this very well. They are not fooled. They appreciate that politics is often theatre.

    Those citizens who sincerely profess indignation are comforting themselves with delusions, the chief one being that there is One Truth, and its necessary companion “Ambiguity is Wrong”.

  4. These two old blog-posts of my own cover the same issues in part: (a general discussion), and (application to Charles J. Haughey)

  5. This is another article, not by me this time, which captures the issues quite well IMHO.

    A key quotation from it:

    “This is the paradox of public space: even if everyone knows … saying it in public changes everything”.

    I regard this as a expressing a profound and important truth.

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