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Press Council raises concerns over 'imminent threats' to financial stability of journalism industry

The Press Council published its annual report for 2018 today.

Image: Shutterstock/Billion Photos

THE PRESS COUNCIL of Ireland has expressed concerns over the impact regarding the “sobering fact” that newspaper circulation in Ireland has halved over the last decade.

The comments were made in the Press Council’s annual report for 2018.

Members of the Press Council include all Irish daily and Sunday newspapers, most local papers and some online-only publications. TheJournal.ie joined the Press Council of Ireland in 2013.

In his remarks in the report, chairman Seán Donlon added that the drop in advertising revenue and in circulation are “imminent threats” to the financial stability of the industry. 

“The shortage of funds has inevitably brought about a decline in investigative journalism, public interest reporting and coverage of the activities of local authorities and other public bodies,” Donlon said. 

Revenue from advertising is expected to decline by 11% this year, the report noted. 

Donlon also said the another “major threat” to press freedom in Ireland is the Defamation Act, 2009. 

The 2009 Act contains a clause requiring that it be reviewed after five years. However, that did not happen, Donlon said. 

“Finally, in November 2016 the Minister for Justice announced a review of the Act and invited interested parties to make submissions before the end of the year,” Donlon said, adding that the Press Council made a detailed submission including suggesting an enhanced role for the Council.

“Now over two years later the review has not been published. In the meantime, the newspaper industry’s decline continues,” he said.

In the absence of a reform of the Act, newspapers are inhibited from investigating and publishing matters which the public has a right to know.
Because of the exorbitant costs involved they are understandably reluctant to confront legal actions and threats of such actions, sometimes from individuals with deeper pockets than those of the papers themselves.

Donlon added that it is to be hoped that the review will be completed shortly and that a revised Defamation Act will be enacted “without further delay”.

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The annual report outlined that the Office of the Press Ombudsman received a total of 464 complaints last year, an increase from 330 in 2017. 

Of those complaints, the Press Ombudsman made formal decisions in 30 cases and 10 complaints were upheld.

Press Ombudsman Peter Feeney noted that one cartoon generated 160 complaints and if you allow for this, the actual level of complaints is quite similar to the previous year. 

The most frequently cited cause for complaint related to complaints over prejudice which made up 47.9% of complaints.

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