Clampdown urged on 'libel and abuse' by online media

 

THE GOVERNMENT should “address the threat to humanity posed by the tsunami of unverifiable data, opinion, libel and vulgar abuse in new media”, Alan Crosbie, the chairman of Thomas Crosbie Holdings, said yesterday.

Speaking at a conference on media diversity in Dublin organised by Nessa Childers MEP, Mr Crosbie said the Government was “walking away” from the regulation of new media, “because they’re afraid of appearing to be repressive”.

The TCH chairman also said newspaper publishers should receive a share of the proposed new broadcast charge.

Mr Crosbie, whose group publishes titles including the Irish Examinerand the Sunday Business Post, said newspapers were overly dependent on “fickle” advertising and that the dual-funding of RTÉ through licence fee and advertising revenues “distorts the market for everyone” trying to publish information in the public good.

“The fact is that to generate good information carries a cost. It requires money. Unless you steal it like most new media companies do,” he said. As well as “being a tool of freedom and democracy”, the internet “has the capacity to destroy civil society and cause unimaginable suffering”, he added.

John Lloyd, contributing editor to the Financial Times, described Mr Crosbie’s passionate speech as “the passion of desperation”.

Mr Crosbie replied that he had campaigned for newspapers to receive a share of licence fee revenues in recognition of their public service function “for 20 years, through the good times and the bad times”, but that he would “settle for zero VAT” on newspapers. Though he gave away few details about the contents of the imminent media merger Bill, Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte confirmed that online news services would be taken into account when the Government calculates how much control an individual or company has of the Irish media.

The Minister said the Bill would implement the 2008 recommendations of the Advisory Group on Media Mergers, which stressed that media mergers should be subject to special plurality tests over and above the type of competition concerns that apply to merging companies in other sectors.

Mr Rabbitte’s department is in the process of drafting the Bill, which will be published “in the coming months”.

He said the “established and considered voice that print media provides” was a “critical component” of a pluralistic media.

But he also highlighted the democratising potential of online media. “Anyone with a smart phone and an internet connection can become a journalist, instantly – as several former governments in North Africa will attest.”

David Cochrane, founder of political forum Politics.ie, told the conference it had been a relatively quiet morning on the site until Mr Crosbie had made his strongly worded speech, a copy of which Politics.ieposted online.

“The comments aren’t great overall – well, not for him, anyway,” said Mr Cochrane.

Taking issue with Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn’s recent suggestion that the internet is “a playground for anonymous backstabbers”, Mr Cochrane said many legal threats made against him in relation to material posted on Politics.iewere “frivolous”.

Online media has encouraged people “to engage with democracy”, he added, and users were “no longer relying on a newspaper to tell them what happened yesterday”.