Quinn says online media as accountable as traditional media

Fri, Feb 3, 2012, 00:00

ONLINE MEDIA must be “prepared to embrace the same levels of accountability as traditional media”, the Minister for Education has told University of Limerick journalism students.

Ruairí Quinn said yesterday he would be worried if traditional media, such as newspapers, were to collapse against the threat of online and social media.

“The internet is now one of two major threats to the media, especially and essentially newspapers. Should all citizens worry about this? Would it really matter if the traditional press were to collapse under the strain, would the gap be filled by online media or social media? . . .

“I personally think it would matter very much. I say this in spite of the shortcomings in the traditional media. Some of these have been dramatically exposed in the Leveson inquiry in Britain.”

Mr Quinn said the strengths of traditional media were its “high degree of reliability, accuracy, authority and a willingness to accommodate different points of view”.

One of the big problems with the internet, he remarked, was that “its inhabitants are unaccountable and live in cyberspace. . . a playground for anonymous back-stabbers”.

Mr Quinn also said he would like to see “a discussion about how the powers of the Press Council and Press Ombudsman might be strengthened” and “how their remit be extended to cover online media”.

Part of the media’s job was to hold the most powerful in society to account but it must also “accept an appropriate level of accountability themselves”. Because the Defamation Act had removed huge financial risks for newspapers in printing apologies, he would like to see more printed where they were deserved.

“Where are the apologies? It’s inevitable the media make mistakes, the miracle is that they get so many things right under the time pressures in which they now have to operate. Why then, are there still so few admissions of mistakes . . . So few apologies by the media?

“What you get more often than not is something called a clarification. It’s always at the bottom of the page and written in deadpan English. So, if politicians are to be more frank with their admissions and their apologies, why not also the media? Done properly, this will enhance the media’s reputation rather than, as some would appear to think, damage it even more than the original error.”

Before he addressed the UL journalism students, Mr Quinn said the Government was to review its plan to cut teacher allowances and that in some cases, some may be paid “where there is a case that can be made”.

It emerged this week that newly qualified teachers who will replace those taking up the early retirement scheme will stand to lose up to €9,000 in allowances through cutbacks.

“There are different kinds of allowances,” Mr Quinn said. “There’s a review of them. Some of the allowances are an intrinsical part of the salary, other allowances are precisely what they are described – an allowance for certain kinds of activities.

“Some of the allowances, that are part of the salary, are pensionable. There’s a review of those and where there is a case that can be made, then they will be paid, that’s my understanding of it.”

The Minister for Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin, would be conducting the review, which would take a matter of weeks.

Mr Quinn also said that a short-term plan had been put in place to try to deal with the impending crisis in teacher numbers.

“We’ve made a facility whereby [Leaving Certificate and Junior Certificate] teachers in an exam year can avail of the full [retirement] package and, if the school wishes, and if the teacher wants to, they can come back and be paid to do the next three months to see out their pupils, as some of them have indicated.

“That was the problem that was communicated to us. They would come in at the bottom tier of the salary grade. That’s a facility that is now with the schools, with the management and with the teachers to exercise, if they wish.”