Friday, November 30, 2012

Of hyperbole and credulous journalism

According to an uncritical report in the Irish Times today a court case will have "significant ramifications for Irish society". SiliconRepublic agrees that the case is "significant" and will "send shivers down the spine" of internet users. So what was this latter day Donoghue v. Stevenson of such great importance?

It turns out that it was a run of the mill application to the High Court to identify internet users. These are reasonably common in the Irish courts. The first came in 2005 when the music industry sought to identify filesharers. Since then there have been multiple such applications including several other filesharing cases, a very high profile action by the Red Cross against a whistleblower and one by Ryanair against pilots. This year alone applications were brought to identify internet users by a student wrongly accused of dodging a taxi fare and by solicitor Damien Tansey against the operators of the Rate Your Solicitor website.

This is far from being a full list - these are just the most high profile examples - and this is certainly not any sort of new area of law.

So why the hyperbole in the current stories? Both pieces quote the solicitor responsible for the action, and it's entirely understandable that he might seek to talk up the significance of the case. But journalists should know better than to accept self-serving claims at face value.

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