Public anger at TV3 intrusion into Lenihan’s serious illness

By , December 27, 2009 9:41 am

Over in Ireland, there’s a heated debate going on over TV3’s revelation that a government official has a life-threatening illness.

As I’ve blogged previously, I do think that the health of people in the public sector is a matter of public concern, so I am not particularly appalled that his illness was revealed in the news. What makes this case problematic, however, is that the government official had only just gotten the diagnosis (reported to be pancreatic cancer) a few days previously, and in the tv station’s rush to get the news out, they really didn’t treat him as a human being who has been dealt a serious blow and who needs to process it and to talk with his family.

Daniel McConnell, Jody Corcoran, and Ronald Quinlan report, in part:

The nation was shocked last night at the manner in which TV3 News disclosed that Finance Minister Brian Lenihan was suffering from a serious illness.

Senior government sources spoke of “outrage” across the political spectrum at the insensitive content and tone of a news bulletin broadcast at 5.30pm yesterday, which the station had earlier in the day flagged as a “news story of national importance”.

[…]

Andrew Hanlon, TV3 Director of News, last night defended the broadcast.

“We held it for two days to enable him to inform his family,” he said.

Asked about the broadcast last night, former minister, Mary O’Rourke, an aunt of Mr Lenihan, was too upset to comment immediately after the broadcast.

It was left to opposition TDs, Mr Lenihan’s constituency colleagues, Labour Finance spokeswoman Joan Burton and Fine Gael Enterprise spokesman Leo Varadkar, a medical doctor, to reflect the growing anger.

Mr Varadkar said he thought it was “absolutely inappropriate” for TV3 to broadcast details of Mr Lenihan’s condition, particularly when the Finance Minister had only received the initial diagnosis in the past few days.

Mr Varadkar said: “I had heard about this last week, but I wasn’t sure if it was true. I don’t think it was right for this to be aired on the news.

“I think Mr Lenihan should have been given the opportunity of at least a couple of weeks to digest the news with his family before deciding whether or not he wanted to make a statement.”

Ms Burton also expressed her anger at TV3’s decision: “I think it’s a terrible intrusion into Brian and his family’s privacy and especially at Christmas. The man has young, teenage children.

“It’s certainly not a departure in the media that I would welcome. I’m really shocked that a story like that could be broadcast at Christmas. I just want to wish Brian well.”

[…]

I think that such debate about the conduct of the media is healthy. Even when a matter is of public concern, can’t the media use a little self-restraint and compassion in when to and how to report the news? TV3 asserts that it held on to the story for two days. While I understand the mentality of “news” and not getting scooped, I wish they had handled this differently and with more sensitivity.

I do not know the Finance Minister, but wish him and his family strength, caring doctors, and the support of good friends during what will be difficult times.

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