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Column: On World Press Freedom Day, Ireland can stand proud

We might moan about the press – but Irish media consumers are among the world’s luckiest, writes Ross McCarthy.

Ross McCarthy

SCENARIO 1: RETURNING to your car late at night, you realise you are the last to leave an empty garage. Beside your vehicle lies an envelope with 50 €100 notes inside. There is no camera, no guard and no chance that you have been seen by anyone.

You then have 3 options:

  1. Keep the money.
  2. Think about it overnight.
  3. Find a guard and report it.

Scenario 2: The situation is identical to Scenario 1 except for the fact that there is a 30% chance that there is a camera in the garage.

Results:

Drawing on the example by Daniel Kaufmann and colleagues, presented at the 1st Global Forum on Media Development in 2005, it becomes clear why press freedom is hugely important in tacking corruption at all levels in society. Today is World Press Freedom Day (yes, there is a day for that too) and we in Ireland should count ourselves extremely lucky in regard to the level of press freedom we enjoy here.

According to US watchdog Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press index, published on Tuesday, only 14.5% of the world’s citizens live in countries that enjoy a free press. For the other almost six billion people on our planet, governments and non-state actors control the viewpoints that reach citizens and often brutally repress independent voices who aim to promote good governance, accountability and economic development.

The sheer existence of TheJournal.ie and the fact that readers can comment freely on stories without fear of repression or retaliation for expressing their own personal views are proof of rights that are all too often taken for granted in Ireland. As a nation we rank a highly credible 13th of 197 countries in press freedom, notably ahead of both the US (22nd), and the UK (31st).

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In the envelope example the percentage of people reporting and returning the money jumps to 74%, a 40% rise, when there is a just a 30% chance that a camera has been introduced in the garage. If a politician or government official believes that there is no chance of being caught when taking bribes or carrying out other acts of corruption, there is a higher likelihood of them doing so. If, however, there is a free press who have a chance of uncovering these illegal actions, then the likelihood of such actions taking place is reduced.

So as you comment away, possibly criticising the failings of this article, no doubt pointing out that accountability, good governance and economic development are not exactly attributes that may be attached to Ireland at present and perhaps even mocking the example of finding an envelope of money in an Irish garage, at least be thankful that you have the ability to do so in one of the best media arenas on the planet.

Ross McCarthy is working as an NGO consultant in Dublin. He has received an MSc Economic Development and Finance from the University of Glasgow, and in this study he focused on the impact of press freedom on development. You can follow him on twitter @rossmmccarthy.

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