A third of Irish journalists have been sued in the last five years, survey reveals

DCU report reveals threat of defamation action and online abuse are among the biggest worries in the journalistic profession

More than a third of Irish journalists have faced a legal action in the last five years, according to a survey of the profession.

Irish Journalists at Work: Values, Roles and Influences by DCU academics Prof Kevin Rafter and Dr Dawn Wheatley reveals that the risk of being sued remains among the biggest worries for journalists in Ireland.

Their findings are based on a sample of 364 national and local journalists working in various media outlets including broadcast, print and digital in the Republic of Ireland.

The traditional classification of journalism – print or broadcast – is no longer used as the vast majority of journalists work across different platforms.


The survey is part of a wider international research project founded to assess the state of journalism across the globe.

Of those who participated in Ireland, 35 per cent said they had been the subject of defamation actions in the previous years with 6 per cent saying it had happened often or very often.

More than half (52 per cent) of journalists said media laws and regulation are very/extremely influential on their work.

A fifth (21 per cent) said they had often/very often experienced demeaning and hateful speech online while 19 per cent have faced public discrediting their work.

Irish journalists consider themselves to be left-of-centre and are increasingly moving that way in comparison with the last survey carried out in 2016.

Some 61.5 per cent of them considered themselves to be left-leaning in comparison with the general population (33 per cent) while 8.5 per cent identified themselves as right-leaning compared to 17 per cent for the Irish population.

The authors concluded: “It would suggest that right-leaning views are perhaps under-represented among Irish journalists relative to the general population, while left-leaning views are over-represented.”

When asked how they perceive their role as journalists, almost four in five respondents (77 per cent) indicated that they saw their role to monitor and scrutinise those in power.

Some 71 per cent said that they saw themselves as “detached observers” from governmental structures.

Younger journalists are more attached to the idea of their work “shining a light on society’s problems” – almost 60 per cent of those aged under 30 consider this role as extremely important.

The corresponding figure for those in the 30-49 and 50+ age categories is just below 50 per cent respectively.

The survey findings show that there is a high level of attachment to principles of trust and impartiality – more than four in five journalists (83 per cent) said facts should be allowed to speak for themselves in stories (either agreeing or strongly agreeing with this stance).

Almost 90 per cent agree/strongly agree that a journalist should inform the public when a source’s claim is not truthful.

Three-quarters of respondents (75 per cent) agree/strongly agree that it is possible to represent objective reality in their reporting.

The survey concludes that the Irish journalism landscape is more resilient than might have been apparent when the first survey took place in 2016. There has been considerable consolidation in the sector with The Irish Times acquiring The Irish Examiner while Independent Newspapers has been purchased by Mediahaus.

“The years between the publication in 2016 of the first report and this latest report, which draws on new survey findings would from this brief review, at least, tend to confirm the doomsday outlook for Irish journalism,” it states.

“Yet over these years, there has also been significant ownership change in the Irish media sector – which given the level of activity may indicate that there are still some positives in the sector.”

  • Sign up for push alerts and have the best news, analysis and comment delivered directly to your phone
  • Find The Irish Times on WhatsApp and stay up to date
  • Our In The News podcast is now published daily – Find the latest episode here
Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times