NUJ calls on Taoiseach to set up media commission

‘Political courage’ needed as industry suffers from ‘multi-dimensional’ crisis, union says

Governments have failed to address challenges facing newspapers, broadcasting and digital media, the NUJ says. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Governments have failed to address challenges facing newspapers, broadcasting and digital media, the NUJ says. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

 

The Government has been urged to mark World Press Freedom Day by setting up a commission designed to tackle a “multi-dimensional crisis” in the Irish media.

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has written to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Opposition leaders calling for the establishment of a Commission on the Future of the Media in Ireland.

The NUJ’s Irish secretary Séamus Dooley renewed a previous call by the union to set up such a commission in the letter, saying recent developments in both the newspaper and broadcasting sectors lent the proposal “a sense of urgency”.

He said the NUJ would welcome the opportunity to discuss it with the Taoiseach.

Revelations from the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement’s investigation into Independent News & Media (INM) vindicate the NUJ’s fears that there is a lack of adequate safeguards to protect journalists from direct and indirect interference by corporate interests, Mr Dooley said.

Alongside this “major concern” about media ownership and control, the NUJ also highlighted the “dire financial position” of public service broadcaster RTÉ, the closure of regional newspaper titles and an absence of diversity within newsrooms.

Retribution fear

These issues “need to be addressed in a coherent fashion”, according to the union.

“Political fear of retribution by powerful figures may well have inhibited politicians from taking a stand on this issue to date but in the current grave situation there is a need for political courage,” Mr Dooley said in a statement, adding that he hoped this would “mark the beginning of a positive engagement with TDs and Senators on this issue”.

In the letter, Mr Dooley drew attention to the extent to which the media industry has changed since the last major reviews of its role and function in Ireland, which took place in 1996 and 2002.

“Given the significance of media policy on our democracy, it is surprising that successive governments have failed to address the challenges facing the print, broadcasting and digital media sectors in a structured and coherent manner.”

Media plurality, the protection of editorial independence, funding models across all sectors, Ireland’s onerous defamation law, access to the profession and employment standards in the industry are among the topics that the union would like to see examined by a commission.

Mr Dooley said the NUJ was “aware of the sensitivities” involved in attempting to address media issues, but believed there was now public demand and “encouraging” cross-party support for the Government to do so.

World Press Freedom Day takes place on Thursday.