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Press Council wants to "embrace new as well as legacy media"

Chairman says the move of TheJournal.ie into the Council – a first for a major online publication – shows belief that best practice in journalism is ‘platform-neutral’.

THE PRESS COUNCIL is hoping to attract new digital media members into its fold. Speaking at the launch of the Council’s 2013 report, chairperson Dáithí O Ceallaigh said that he believed the organisation is now well placed to deal with “all the challenges involves in this technological explosion”.

TheJournal.ie was the first major online news publication to become a full member of the Press Council, joining in September of last year.

O Ceallaigh said today that “in time, we anticipate, other digital media will recognise the value of our system,” and sign up to Press Council principles.

He said that the Council – and the Office of the Press Ombudsman – believed that “best professional practice in journalism is platform-neutral” and that it hoped other digital publishers would accept their Code of Practice and “the principles of accountability and redress”.

The Taoiseach and TheJournal.ie

The growing influence and readership of online media – both online-only like TheJournal.ie and the digital arms of newspapers and other media – produced challenges that the Council wished to meet, he added.

He said:

Not the least significant example of how this challenge is being met has been the recent accession of a major news website, TheJournal.ie, as a full member of the Council.We have always believed that the Council is well placed to embrace new as well as legacy media which are prepared to work with an independent system of accountability and redress based on a Code of Practice which reflects the best judgement of media professionals themselves.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny also spoke at the launch, saying that the Irish public is satisfied with the professional standards applied in the print media – and that he hoped the Council’s standards, guidance and support would also be applicable to digital media.

Of TheJournal.ie (and its commenting community) he said:

I know that the Council has in recent times welcomed a significant new member from the ever-expanding area of digital publishing; that’s with the admission of TheJournal.ie. I must say that sometimes I enjoy the bemusing and bemused eye of TheJournal.ie, even if the community response is not always as, let us say, supportive.I believe that the advent of TheJournal.ie to this fold is only the first step in encouraging digital media that are professional in character, and see the innate value of adhering to the standards of, and supporting, the Council and the Press Ombudsman.

Dáithí O Ceallaigh also spoke of the challenges of protecting media freedom to carry out investigative journalism and said that the Council was keeping under review recommendations by an EC report on media freedom and pluralism.

The report sought to address, among other issues, concentration of media ownership, political and commercial influence, and the effect of those factors on media independence.

However, it also suggested increased influence of the EC over the regulation of the press, a move which the Press Council would oppose.

Being Press Ombudsman

The 2013 Press Council report is the final one to be presented by outgoing Press Ombudsman John Horgan. He is to retire this September from the role which he has held since 2007, when the Council was established. His successor has not yet been named.

Over the period of his six years as Ombudsman, Horgan has upheld as many complaints as he has rejected (38 per cent for each). “I can assure you that this is not the result of any deliberate policy on my part, as of course the extent to which any complaint is upheld depends on the merits of each case and on the provisions of the Code of Practice, which govern all my decisions,” Horgan said today at the report launch.

The remaining percentage of complaints did not require formal decisions but were concluded in another manner. Common sense and mediation seems to resolve some complaints with Horgan reporting that “a private and personal letter from an editor, or a personal meeting with an editor, could much more satisfactorily reflect the spirit of the Code” than a published apology. This applies especially when the effect of such a public apology can be negative for the complainant, again putting a spotlight on an issue they deem to be private.

The role of social media in the future of journalism is one that must be tackled although, Horgan acknowledged, “as yet there are few route maps and no effective pricing system”.

He said that he hoped that the public would see freedom of the press as a “social and public value in itself” but that the principles and “spirit” of the Press Council Code of Practice would help the media to justify that public trust by acting professionally.

Investment in journalism

His six years as Press Ombudsman had taught him that “investment [made by the press in] the quality of their journalism… is an investment in public trust. He said:

It may take time to show up on the bottom line, but without it we will be all the poorer.

He also said that there is “immense goodwill out there for honest, courageous journalism”.

The Code of Practice, he noted wryly, was not written by the Ombudsman or the Press Council but by journalists. Ethical decisions, he said, are not achieved by “slavish” following of regulations, but by “ethical human beings” who set their own standards.

  • The full address by Dáithí O Ceallaigh can be found here while John Horgan’s comments are here.
  • A breakdown of the areas in which complaints were made to the Press Council are outlined here.
  • The full annual report, with case studies, can be read here.
May 2013: A 67% increase in volume of complaints to Press Ombudsman>
Irish Press Ombudsman at Leveson inquiry>

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