Back newspapers with public money, says Fianna Fáil

Party drafting plan to help fund public-service journalism after return to government

Timmy Dooley is consulting industry groups to explore a number of options, such as a levy on advertising with online outlets like Google and Facebook. Photograph: Alan Betson

Timmy Dooley is consulting industry groups to explore a number of options, such as a levy on advertising with online outlets like Google and Facebook. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Newspapers and traditional media organisations would be given some State funding in order to protect journalism under proposals being drafted by Fianna Fáil.

Timmy Dooley, the party’s spokesman on communications, said a Fianna Fáil led government would introduce measures to help “independent, properly researched, validated journalistic endeavour”.

Mr Dooley said measures to be announced by the party in the coming weeks will be included in the Fianna Fáil manifesto and will shape government policy if the party is in office.

He added it was not an exaggeration to say that the troubles affecting traditional media organisations which invest in journalism are a threat to democracy.

“Long term, there is a threat to democracy, and that is not overstating it,” the Clare TD said, adding that the shift towards online news had led to incidents such as Russian hacking in a number of elections as well as the spread of questionable and false news.

Fianna Fáil has already proposed that additional resources from tackling licence fee evasion - with Mr Dooley suggesting the responsibility for collecting a reformed, future charge could be passed to the Revenue Commissioners - should be used to support local radio stations.

A “significant shift” towards online advertising, as well as declining revenues and circulation, were also damaging traditional media.

Funding organisations such as newspapers could be done, Mr Dooley argued, by changing the licence fee that currently funds RTÉ to a wider media charge and diverting a portion to companies investing in proper journalism.

“The one thing that is sure is that journalism is under threat - phenomenally so - because of falling revenues, falling circulation, falling advertising. It is our view that in order to protect professional journalism, State support would be provided.”

While the party has not yet finalised how this could be done, Mr Dooley is consulting industry groups to explore a number of options, such as a levy on advertising with online outlets like Google and Facebook. Other, associated issues, such as the cost of defamation payouts, could also be examined.

Further changes to the VAT regime - the special 9 per cent applies to newspapers - is seen as difficult because media organisations cannot be separate from others, such as hotels, who avail of the lower rate.

“The question is do you believe in journalism? Do you believe in independent, properly researched, validated journalistic endeavour?” Mr Dooley asked.