Internet poses huge threat to industry, editor tells forum


FREEDOM OF the press depends on responsibility, protection of sources, and a newspaper’s financial security, Irish Timeseditor Geraldine Kennedy said last night.

She also said the internet has posed a “huge threat” to the traditional structure and financing of the newspaper industry.

Ms Kennedy was speaking at a public discourse on press freedom at NUI Galway’s Moore Institute for Research in the Humanities and Social Studies.

The discourse, also addressed by Prof William Schabas, NUIG professor of human rights law, was chaired by NUIG president Dr James J Browne and Moore Institute director Prof Nicholas Canny.

A “trustworthy, authoritative take on our world on any given day is as necessary in the technology-rich world as it ever was,” Ms Kennedy said. In her view, the people to provide it were professional journalists who had been well schooled and practised in principles of press freedom.

“While the internet represents freedom in many ways, it does not necessarily represent the freedom of the press that is important to democracy and communal and individual freedom in society,” she said.

“Who is that blogger, what is their agenda, who is paying for it, who or what is behind that glossy site extolling some virtue or vice?

“There is no doubt in my mind that there will continue to be a demand from readers for a good, big read at the kitchen table, independent print journalism,” she said. “Nobody has time to filter out the significant from the noise of the internet.”

Referring to yesterday’s Supreme Court decision to award total legal costs against The Irish Timesin spite of its successful appeal in the case involving the Mahon tribunal, Ms Kennedy said she was disappointed.

However, press freedom had been “enormously strengthened” by the outcome of the appeal, as it had established, for the first time in Irish law, the right to protect sources, she emphasised.

Ms Kennedy said that we were fortunate to live in a country, and one of the few regions of the world, in which press freedom was accepted as a fundamental right.

Prof William Schabas said he believed The Irish Timeshad been “punished” by the ruling, and the newspaper should “not take too long” about referring it to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Prof Schabas said that the spirit of investigative journalism could be much stronger in Ireland, but “historically plaintiff-friendly libel laws” appeared to inhibit and “chill” the Irish media.