On-going developments in the Rachel O’Reilly case have created another trial by media in Ireland.
Tuesday, 14th of March saw a man being arrested in connection to the murder. The man, who had been arrested before, was later released without charge. The man’s girlfriend is currently being questioned in relation to the case also.
RTÉ put the arrests down to new CCTV and phone-record based evidence which contradicts statements given by the two in the past.
In covering the story Newstalk, Dublin’s speech-based radio station (and sole-applicant of a quasi-national radio licence) named the man arrested and as a result revealed the identity of the second individual. Under Irish libel laws, announcing the name of someone in custody or undergoing questioning is illegal; a name can only be revealed when it is read out in court after charges are made (as a trial by the state or DPP is on behalf of the public and thus in their domain). Ignoring the financial repercussions of connecting an individual to a crime they have not been official accused of, putting their name beside a crime before a trial could bias a jury and force a case to be thrown out.
This case has recieved a plethora of media interest for various reasons since the story broke and it would be hard to escape the pre-concieved notions that most members of the public have come to in relation to the case; most people are sure in their own minds of who the culprit is. The danger in this, of course, is that these notions are based on ill-reporting, mis-conceptions or personal bias and as such are a threat to the validity of a court case or conviction. The media should play no part in nudging members of the public to a certain decision and they should certainly not be connecting people’s names to a crime that even the DPP are not willing to try them on.
The truth of the matter is that this case, if ever it goes to trial (and please God it does), will recieve as much, if not more media coverage than the Catherine Nevin case.
Certain sections of the media are likely to bias the case as they have done before, and regardless of their intentions, be they good or bad, the outcome could do more to hinder a conviction than help it.
In shots on RTÉ News tonight, the man in question was filmed from behind as he left the Garda Station; as he did so numerous photographers scrambled for a good shot of his face. Expect to see many outlets besides Newstalk revealing his identity on their respective front-pages in the morning.
Update: Today’s papers were covered with the issue; The Sun, The Evening Herald, The Mirror, The Star, The Daily (Irish) Mail and The Irish Independent all named the man and woman held for questioning. The Irish Times and The Irish Examiner were the only daily national papers that didn’t name the individuals.