Concentration of ownership ‘threat’ to Irish press freedom

Republic up one place to 15th in Reporters Without Borders index

There is a ‘climate of self-censorship’ in Irish media, Reporters Without Borders said

There is a ‘climate of self-censorship’ in Irish media, Reporters Without Borders said

 

A high concentration of media ownership in Ireland remains “the single largest threat” to press freedom in Ireland, according to Reporters Without Borders. The organisation also called for a review of Irish defamation law.

The Republic retained its high placing in its annual index of press freedom, climbing one spot to 15th position.

However, Reporters Without Borders highlighted the role of Independent News & Media (INM), which it said “controls much of the daily and Sunday newspaper market”, and added that broadcasting was “dominated” by RTÉ.

The organisation’s “serious concerns” about media freedom also included the “extraordinarily high damages” awarded by Irish courts, which it said had prompted calls for a review of the 2009 Defamation Act – a long-overdue review given one was meant to have been completed within five years of its enactment.

In 2017, the European Court of Human rights found that a €1.25 million award in a defamation case was a breach of the right to freedom of expression because of its scale. The award was made after INM libelled Monica Leech in a series of articles published in 2004.

“The possibility of exorbitant damages, combined with the high costs of defending defamation suits, has resulted in a climate of self-censorship,” Reporters Without Borders said.

‘Untouchable’ individuals

“Prominent individuals known to be litigious become largely untouchable by the Irish media” as a result, it concluded.

The organisation also drew attention to the general scheme of the Communications (Retention of Data) Bill, which was published in 2017 but has not yet been tabled, saying it failed to provide specific protections for journalists.

It said it had been “virtually impossible” for journalists to interview police sources since the Garda Síochána Act of 2005, which bans police officers from talking to journalists without prior authorisation.

However, it hailed October’s referendum vote to decriminalise blasphemy as a “welcome move for press freedom”.

Norway, Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark were the five highest-ranked countries on the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, while Turkmenistan, North Korea, Eritrea, China and Vietnam were the five bottom-ranked states.