Varadkar comes under pressure to clarify comments on media

Taoiseach expected to address issue in Dáil after saying he sympathised with Trump’s views

Leo Varadkar told a private lunch gathering in New York on Tuesday that he sympathised with Donald Trump’s view of the media, saying the media was not interested in the truth but in the story. Photographer: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg

Leo Varadkar told a private lunch gathering in New York on Tuesday that he sympathised with Donald Trump’s view of the media, saying the media was not interested in the truth but in the story. Photographer: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has come under pressure to clarify his comments on the media after he told a private lunch in New York that he sympathised with Donald Trump’s views on the press.

The head of the National Union of Journalists in Ireland Seamus Dooley said Mr Varadkar needed to “clarify his comments as a matter of urgency”.

Mr Varadkar told a private lunch gathering in New York on Tuesday that he sympathised with Donald Trump’s view of the media, saying the media was not interested in the truth but in the story.

He claimed political journalists were more interested in gossip at Dáil Éireann than in the workings of Government, describing their interest in whispers in the corridors.

He also claimed some investigative journalism in Ireland was incorrect, singling out RTÉ in particular for criticism.

Mr Varadkar was due to appear alongside Minister for Finance Paschal Donohue at 10am on Wednesday at O’Devaney Gardens to mark the first phase of its regeneration, but has since pulled out of the appearance.

Speaking at that event, Mr Donohoe said he and the Taoiseach are “very much against” some of “the darker tones we have see develop in other democracies at the moment getting any kind of grip in our country at the moment”.

He said Mr Varadkar would deal with the matter in the Dáil later on.

He said the Taoiseach and the Government strongly support a free and independent media.

“I unreservedly support the operation and function of the media in our democracy,” the Dublin Central TD said. “It is essential that we have a free and independent media.”

In a statement, Mr Dooley said:

“Mr Varadkar needs to clarify his comments as a matter of urgency. If the object of the visit to New York was to project Ireland as a modern democracy then expressing sympathy with Donald Trump’s views on the media was a spectacular own goal by An Taoiseach.

“Freedom of expression is a core principle of the United Nations. Donald Trump has shown nothing but contempt for the media and it is disturbing that Mr Varadkar should in any way align himself with the views of the American president on this issue.

“An Taoiseach’s criticism of RTÉ is especially concerning since the public service broadcaster since it suggests a hostility towards an organisation which, by definition, requires the goodwill and support of government. His reported comments on Prime Time, if true are gratuitous and insulting.”

Meanwhile, Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy said the Taoiseach’s comments were “taken out of context” and expected him to clarify his remarks in the Dáil later on Wednesday.

Speaking on RTE’s Morning Ireland, Mr Murphy said:

“From what I’ve seen about what he’s reported to have said I think he’s been taken out of context...I’m sure he’ll get an opportunity to clarify if it’s raised in the Dail later on.

“I know in clarifying them he’ll be making a very robust defence of an independent media because that’s what he believes.”

Newsbrands Ireland, the representative body for national newspapers in Ireland, also released a statment in Mr Varadkar’s comments.

Chairman Vincent Crowley said:

“It is important that independent journalism in Ireland is supported as it is in other EU countries. The best way the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and the government could show their support for good Irish journalism is to support a number of measures being sought by the newspaper industry.”

These measures included reducing VAT on newspapers, reforming defamation laws and having a Minister for the Media.