Rabbitte says there are no easy solutions for the newspaper industry
Minister for Communications says print media facing major challenge
Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte. “Content is still king and if standards can be maintained then those of us who can’t live without it will keep buying.” Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte has said he is willing to explore any feasible measures to arrest the long-term decline of the newspaper industry but has added that no solutions suggest themselves to him at present.
Mr Rabbitte said he had concerns about the future of newspapers in Ireland but that the question of the future of news organisations would depend on whether their migration to digital platforms was viable. New competition and consumer legislation to be published in late September will lead to Mr Rabbitte assuming political responsibility for all media matters in the State, not just broadcasting.
In an interview with The Irish Times Mr Rabbitte accepted the print media was facing a major challenge. “I do [worry] but I fear that I am representative of a demographic. The under-35s are not so concerned as I am about newspapers being kept alive and about quality newspapers in particular being kept alive . . .
“A great majority of young people read newspaper content on their iPhone and that’s the direction it’s going. Does that mean there’s no future?
“Content is still king and if standards can be maintained then those of us who can’t live without it will keep buying. Can we buy them in sufficient numbers? Can a small market survive?”
He said the Government had made a decision on VAT that was helpful to the industry. Along with restaurants, cinemas, hotels, theatres and hairdressers, newspapers saw VAT fall from 13.5 per cent to 9 per cent in 2011. However, the instruments open to him were limited.
“It seems to me that the business is migrating to Google, that it dwarfs the expenditure to RTÉ and to newspapers. That is the problem. A solution does not readily recommend itself to me. I would be very interested in exploring any feasible measures that might be suggested.”
When asked about the French experiment in which state money was directed to print news organisations with a public service remit, he pointed out the scheme was limited in scope and duration.
Asked about the initiative British prime minister David Cameron had taken to compel internet service providers to ensure children could not access pornographic material, he said he was sceptical as to whether it would work.
“I am certainly going to impress on the ISPs that I get a fair amount of complaints from parents . . . and given that their counterparts in England seem to have entered a voluntary code with government to see what they are going to put on the table here.
“It’s a difficult subject. Family-friendly filters are capable of being put on individually. In the world in which we live, teenagers can adroitly access material on iPhone or iPad.”