Fines on media could fund investigative journalism
OPINION:The new Mary Raftery Journalism Fund aims to be a critical tool in preserving democracy
JOURNALISM – OR what is now rather sentimentally called traditional journalism – faces a challenge that really can be called existential. The digital revolution has brought change on a scale that is as irresistible as it is profound and, matched with a global recession, the result is freefall. Digital has done to newspapers and to the human architecture of old media what the motorcar did to the ass-and-cart – and to the ass-and-cart drivers.
The print media’s former customers have now become their own publishers. The walls between the professional and the outside amateur have collapsed. The broadcast media is also affected. We witnessed last week the closure of RTÉ’s London office for budgetary reasons, and advertising revenue is increasingly migrating to the digital world.
Budgets are squeezed and journalism has to suffer as a consequence. Investigative journalism is an expensive commodity, but it is also a vital commodity for the holding of the State and of its institutions to account – and nothing represents the truth of that more than the journalism of Mary Raftery.
In Britain, part prompted by the telephone-hacking scandal that prompted the Leveson inquiry, a House of Lords select committee began an investigation into “The Future of Investigative Journalism”, embarking upon an extensive engagement with, among others, regulators, government ministers, media owners and journalists.
It was an exercise that legislators in this country might do well to emulate. The committee’s report, published in February, set out the worth of investigative journalism alongside the challenges, but it also defined its terms.
Investigative journalism – as opposed to other kinds of reporting – is characterised as that which requires a significant investment in terms of resources and/or funding, runs a high risk of potential litigation and uncovers previously unreported issues of public interest.
Mary Raftery’s journalism ticked all of those boxes. Many of us are aware of the barriers she encountered, at times within RTÉ itself, as she sought to have her and her team’s work afforded its appropriate space in the station schedules. At the commemoration service for Mary in the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham, her husband David spoke of the impact this had on her both emotionally and physically. Yet, almost by definition, investigative journalism and its practitioners have to meet and seek to overcome obstacles that challenge them in the way Mary and her team were challenged.
Anything of worth, anything that churns up the institutions – private or public – of a State to a point where those institutions have profoundly to change will always be met by the human defensive desire to resist, to avoid.