The polite email was branded ‘vile’ and it was suggested that it was an attempt to pressure the celebrity into talking about her child. While on the whole, the online reaction was largely supportive of Niamh and the professionalism revealed in the email, there was also a torrent of personal abuse. Here Niamh responds to the controversy for the first time.
It’s in weeks like these that I am glad that it isn’t to strangers I turn for affirmation, but to the real people in my life.
‘My God,’ texted one friend this week ‘seven out of 10 people on Twitter think Walshie’s more popular than [named celebrity]. You’ll be unbearable now.’ With friends like that, who needs Twitter mobs?
Last weekend an email of mine to a celebrity’s agent politely requesting a comment was posted to the TV presenter’s social media and branded ‘vile’. This led to abuse from sections of her millions of followers.
Ironically the same weekend, the UN launched a report on online abuse against female journalists – cataloging how a ‘chilling tide of abuse is undermining their reporting, spilling into real-life attacks and harassment and putting their health and professional prospects in jeopardy’.
The UN described such abuse as designed to ‘belittle, humiliate and shame, discredit them professionally and undermine accountability, journalism and facts’.
Now I am the first to admit that the story at the centre of this storm in a Twitter cup is not Watergate.
But newsgathering is not a onedimensional craft. Journalism is multi-faceted. Journalists are tasked with shining lights into dark places but it is of equal importance that newspapers temper that darkness with light. They must serve to entertain as well as inform, enlighten and expose skulduggery.
In her initial post, the presenter suggested that my time could be better spent on ‘other news’. In fact, though I work as a showbusiness journalist, I also write across the paper on a variety of stories.
The very fact that I do regularly report on the shade, makes my role reporting on the lighter side of things all the more important.
In my early career, a series of exclusives revealed how our golden circle of developers transferred tens of millions of assets to their wives to hide them from creditors after the economic crash. Luxury homes, apartment blocks, huge tracts of land all secreted away under the nose of Nama.
My revelations forced Nama to pursue the assets, which ended with the transfers being reversed and hundreds of millions of euro recovered for the Irish taxpayer.
My work in exposing the dark underbelly of the Irish puppy trade has resulted in a change in the law to ensure that all adverts selling dogs provide microchip numbers. A long campaign fought by animal lovers across the country was regularly highlighted by articles I wrote.
My subsequent pursuit of major advertising sites allowing puppy farmers to circumvent new laws resulted in DoneDeal capitulating and taking the entire dog sales section down.
A symbiotic relationship exists between showbusiness personalities and the media. I used my showbiz platform to get Ricky Gervais to release a statement condemning the export of Irish greyhounds to China to be raced to death. It went global and major airlines like Lufthansa refused to transport any more greyhounds to China.
Proof that news and showbusiness combined can both entertain and be a force for good.
Two years ago I wrote about how cuckoo funds were buying up hundreds of apartments in Dublin for rental only – and more recently broke the news of John Gilligan’s recent arrest in Spain.
But it is my work in exposing animal cruelty of which I am most proud. As such, I have confronted ‘vile’ in the true sense of the word.
While the hate was coming fast and furious this week, I was in my happy place, kept busy with my three rescue mutts.
My most recent rescue, Little Miss Ruby, was dumped in a ditch, unable to walk on her deformed paws, left to starve or be picked apart by scavengers. A product of the puppy farm trade, discarded like rubbish because she had no monetary value. That is VILE.
It is important to note that the hate was from a small minority of this celebrity’s fans – but a tiny percentage of almost two million followers adds up to a lot of hate.
Someone starting off in journalism, or less resilient, could find it crushing or soul-destroying. Had I been in any way vulnerable or beset by tragedy in the past year, like so many, messages telling me that I ‘didn’t deserve to breathe the same air as others’ might have sent me spiralling.
However, it was gratifying to see that the Irish and British media – and even the Washington Post – publicly supported me and, more importantly, journalism.
Because ultimately, asking people for comment – giving people a right to reply to what you intend to write about them – is a cornerstone of responsible journalism.
If I worried such emails would be made public, then my stories would never see the light of day.
The idea that I was pressuring anybody to comment when they didn’t want to say anything is puzzling. I went to the presenter’s agent by email.
The short email did not demand a response. That it got the response it did is remarkable. Reasonable people, who read the email online, saw it for what it was.
Every day in this job, I feel privileged that I can contribute in some minute way to effecting change, changes that would not be possible if journalists are to be drowned out by a baying online mob.
I will continue to report on skulduggery in high office, to be a plague on profiteering puppy farmers and, yes, I’ll be equally undeterred from politely peppering agents to pampered celebrities with queries they are at liberty to confirm, deny or simply ignore.