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Ireland warned its highly concentrated media ownership is 'single largest threat to press freedom'

Ireland ranked 15th in the 2019 Press Freedom Index.

Image: RSF

IRELAND’S HIGHLY CONCENTRATED media ownership is the “single largest threat” to press freedom in the country, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has warned.

An annual Press Freedom Index, published today by RSF, ranked Ireland 15th in its worldwide press freedom ranking, up one place from last year. 

But while Ireland has retained its high placing, the RSF says it still has serious concerns about media freedom in Ireland. 

The report says defamation laws and the high concentration nature of media ownership across private and state-funded channels mean the country’s media is less free than Costa Rica, Jamaica and Austria among others who ranked higher. 

Independent News and Media (INM) controls much of the daily and Sunday newspaper market, while broadcasting is dominated by the semi-state company RTÉ.

Another cause for concern for RSF is the commonality of defamation cases along with the “extraordinarily high” damages awarded by the courts. 

RSF says the combination of “exorbitant” damages and the high costs of defending defamation suits has resulted in a climate of self-censorship, “in which prominent individuals known to be litigious become largely untouchable by the Irish media”.

It adds that the proposed Communications (Retention of Data) Bill has been criticised for failing to provide protections for journalists.

It also adds that speaking to gardaí is “virtually impossible” since the Garda Síochána Act of 2005, which bans gardaí from talking to journalists without prior authorisation. 

PastedImage-49818 The RSF Index - Breaking down the state of journalism in 180 countries. Source: RSF

Globally, RSF has warned that the number of countries where journalists can work safely has continued to decline.

The 2019 World Press Freedom Index shows that 37% of countries are deemed problematic for journalists, 29% are deemed as difficult, while the situation for journalists in 11% of countries has been deemed very serious. 

Norway is ranked first in the 2019  Index, for the third year in a row. Finland, up two places from last year, has taken second place from the Netherlands, now in 4th. 

At the bottom of the Index, Turkmenistan takes 180th place, down two ranks since last year. North Korea is up one from last year, now at 179th.

Biggest deterioration 

According to the 2019 report the Americas, North and South, suffered the biggest deterioration in its rankings. The US fell three places to 48th, moving it into the orange “problematic” classification. 

Never before have US journalists been subjected to so many death threats or turned so often to private security firms for protection. Hatred of the media is now such that a man walked into the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis, Maryland, in June 2018 and opened fire, killing four journalists and one other member of the newspaper’s staff. 

One of the biggest drops on this year’s Index was Nicaragua which fell 24 places to 114th. 

“Nicaraguan journalists covering protests against President Ortega’s government are treated as protesters and are often physically attacked. Many had to flee abroad to avoid being jailed on terrorism charges,” the report states. 

Mexico (144th) is described by the RSF as one of the “deadliest countries for media”.  

Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s presidency has reduced some of the tension between the authorities and media. But the RSF said the continued violence and impunity for murders of journalists led it to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court in March.

The RSF believes that democracy is in great danger if journalists are treated as scapegoats in a time when politcal debate is sliding towards a “civil war style atmosphere”. 

“Halting this cycle of fear and intimidation is a matter of the utmost urgency for all people of good will who value the freedoms acquired in the course of history,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.

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Adam Daly

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