|For AEJ annual Congress November 2015 in Sibiu, Romania
FREEDOM OF THE PRESS IN IRELAND by Joe Carroll
The freedom of the press in Ireland is generally satisfactory. In the latest World Press Freedom annual index, Ireland moved up from 16th to 11th place out of 180 countries.
Nevertheless, the Irish branch of the National Union of Journalists has expressed concern on the issue of the concentration of media ownership. This follows from the publication last June by the Government of “Guidelines on media mergers”. While the NUJ welcomes the “principles” in the guidelines, it warns that “positive language without strong legislative measures will not break the stranglehold which a few individuals and companies have on media ownership and control in this country.”
The NUJ is disappointed that the guidelines only refer to future actions for media concentration and excludes action on the present situation where the Independent News and Media (INM) titles “account for more than 40 per cent of all national newspaper sales and just three groups own 23 of our 37 radio stations.”
What was shaping up to be a major crisis over absolute privilege in the reporting of proceedings in the Parliament was averted this year when the High Court clarified the situation. This had arisen when Denis O’Brien, the billionaire media businessman, who virtually controls the INM group, secured a court injunction to prevent RTE, the national TV and radio station, from broadcasting a programme about his finances. When a left wing politician, Catherine Murphy, used parliamentary privilege to repeat some of the information in the programme, the mainstream Irish media at first refused to report what she said because they feared it was covered by the court injunction.
This timidity was widely criticised as the Constitution protects parliamentary privilege and the Parliament’s own website reporting Ms Murphy’s speech was available to the public. The High Court defused the situation with a clear directive that the injunction was not intended to interfere with parliamentary reporting.
The incident was another example of how the mainstream Irish media are fearful of costly litigation over allegations of defamation and infringement of privacy where wealthy individuals are concerned.