Journalist arrested in Ireland; two others investigated

New York, March 5, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the arrest of freelance reporter Mick McCaffrey and the criminal investigation of Irish Times journalists Geraldine Kennedy and Colm Keena for allegedly publishing private information.

Police investigated McCaffrey for several months after the independent Dublin-based Evening Herald daily published his August 2006 article about police mishandling of a 1997 murder case that jailed an innocent man. In his article, McCaffrey cited an internal probe into the case that said the suspect was highly suggestible and picking up details of the murder from the detectives, the Associated Press reported.

On February 21, McCaffrey and his lawyer went to the Harcourt Terrace police station for scheduled questioning. After he arrived, he was arrested and questioned for several hours under Section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act, which prohibits the publication of an official inquiry before the findings have been made public, according to local and international press reports.

“These prosecutions will have a chilling effect on journalism in Ireland,” said Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on the authorities to end proceedings against Mick McCaffrey, Geraldine Kennedy and Colm Keena.”

McCaffrey is awaiting the director of prosecution’s decision as to whether the case will go to trial, the journalist told CPJ. If convicted, he faces five years of prison or fines up to €300,000 (US$395,000).

Like McCaffrey, Irish Times editor Geraldine Kennedy and senior correspondent Colm Keena are accused of publishing classified information. In September 2006, Keena’s article, “Tribunal examines payments to Taoiseach,” reported the Mahon Tribunal, a special legal body that investigates corruption, was investigating Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahearn for financial donations he received in the early 1990s, the BBC reported. The article quoted contents of a letter written on behalf of the tribunal to a local businessman, the Dublin-based daily newspaper Irish Independent reported.

If convicted, they face two years in prison, according to local press reports and CPJ sources.

Legal action against McCaffrey, Kennedy, and Keena occurred as press freedom groups and journalists fight a controversial new law proposed by the government. Last summer, the Irish government proposed a new privacy law, which will bar journalists from publishing any information of a private nature about public figures. In a press release, the Irish National Union of Journalists warned that the Privacy Bill would “seriously damage” media freedom and urged the government not to proceed with the legislation.