Fianna Fáil proposes creating €30m fund for print journalism

Timmy Dooley launches new plan calling for establishment of minister for the media

Fianna Fáil communications spokesman Timmy Dooley said a proposed new minister for the media is ‘about the preservation and protection of quality journalism’. Photograph: Alan Betson.

Fianna Fáil communications spokesman Timmy Dooley said a proposed new minister for the media is ‘about the preservation and protection of quality journalism’. Photograph: Alan Betson.

 

A minister for the media, a new €30 million fund for print journalism and a review of defamation laws are among the proposals advanced by Fianna Fáil today in a new policy designed “to sustain high quality journalism in Irish public life.”

The plan was launched this morning by the party’s front bench communications spokesman, Timmy Dooley.

It was welcomed by NewsBrands Ireland, the newspaper industry representative organisation which said it was “a welcome step forward in developing an effective national policy response to support independent journalism in Ireland”.

Speaking to journalists at Leinster House, Mr Dooley said newsrooms around the country, in national and local papers, were being cut back.

“We think that has the potential to have a very significant impact on our democratic institutions,” he said.

“We think it’s now time for the state to intervene.”

He said the emergence of “fake news” mainly on online platforms was acting as a “destabiliser in western democracies”.

In the proposal, Mr Dooley says the decline in newspaper sales in recent years, allied to migration of advertising online, has meant that “Irish newspaper publishers are no longer able to allocate adequate resources provide high quality journalism.”

The document points to several countries such as France and Sweden where public subsidies for newspaper journalism have been introduced.

“Most European countries provide direct and/or indirect support for European publishers,” it says.

Fianna Fáil says it would appoint a “minister for the media” and would set up a “print journalism unit” in the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (which regulates broadcasting) to promote and fund public interest journalism in newspapers.

Independent

Any funding decisions, it says, would be independent of government and the political system.

It proposes a system of fellowships and bursaries for young journalism and new training schemes for new and experienced journalists.

Fianna Fáil also says it would review the defamation laws, which newspapers have argued are overly restrictive and expensive. It would establish an expert group to examine the future of newspapers, and supports allowing newspapers to negotiate collectively with online media platforms.

To pay for the measures in the proposal, the party says that an annual fund of €30 million could be raised ring-fencing Vat receipts from the sale of newspapers or imposing a 6 per cent levy on all digital advertising in Ireland, dominated by internet giants Facebook and Google.

“The levy would ensure that the success of online platforms does not come at the cost of independent public interest journalism,” the Fianna Fáil document says.

Mr Dooley denied it was an attempt to “curry favour” with the media.

“I think it’s a fair effort to address a crisis. I have spoke to virtually all the print outlets in the country . . . If you believe in quality journalism, and you see the threat that it’s under, I believe it’s right that you come forward with an idea to help sustain it,” he said.

“It’s not about the preservation of the print sector per se, “ Mr Dooley said, “It’s about the preservation and protection of quality journalism.”

However, Fine Gael TD Noel Rock described the proposal to support print journalism only as bizarre.

“Quality journalism provided only in an online context would be excluded entirely under these proposals. Is that fair use of public funds?”

NewsBrands chairman, Vincent Crowley, said the proposals showed “a clear understanding of the stark challenges faced by the sector”.

He urged the government to zero rate Vat on newspapers (as is the case elsewhere in the EU), reform the defamation laws, appoint a media minister, set up an innovation and investment fund for media, and invest in journalist training.

So-called fake news had emerged as a national and international challenge, said Mr Crowley.