Ireland

last updated: May 29, 2020
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RSF ranking: 13th out of 180 (RSF, 2020a)
Population: 4.9m (Worldometer, 2020)
Percentage in the capital: 25% (1.23m; World Population Review, 2020)
GDP: 417.88bn (Statista, 2020)
EU member: since 1 January, 1973 (EUROPA, 2020)
Official language: Irish, English (EUROPA, 2020)
Press council: Press Council of Ireland and Office of the Press Ombudsman

Press freedom environment: Freedom House classes Ireland as a “free” country with a total score of 97 out of 100 (Freedom House, 2019). This score is split 39/58 for political rights and for civil liberties (Ibid.). At the time of writing, Freedom House did not have a “narrative report” for 2020, and the most recent one is from 2019. The report showed that overall Ireland has a strong democracy with political and individual rights respected. However, there are particular social problems that continue, such as discrimination against the country’s traveller demographic, problems with domestic violence, and corruption within the enforcement authorities (Ibid.). In terms of key developments in 2018, Ireland saw the landmark referendum that legalised abortion in May 2018 (Ibid.), which has been a highly contentious issue in the traditionally Catholic country and continues to be problematic (Hogan, 2019). Also, blasphemy was removed from the constitution in a referendum from October 2018 (Freedom House, 2019; see also: Graham-Harrison, 2018). In the “Civil Liberties” section of the report called “Freedom of Expression and Belief”, the report describes that the government is able to censor indecent or obscene content, however, this is a power that is rarely invoked (Ibid.). The report also mentioned here the referendum on the blasphemy provisions in the constitution, which were revoked with 65% approval from voters (Ibid.).

Media landscape

Reporters Without Borders cites in its 2020 report that the main problems with the media landscape in the Irish context have to do with media concentration and laws on defamation (RSF, 2020b). Independent News and Media controls a significant portion of the newspaper market for dailies and Sunday editions, with RTE, which is part-owned by the state, controls the broadcast market (Ibid.). Independent News and Media has recently been acquired by Belgium’s Mediahus for €145.6m, and includes titles such as the Irish Independent and the Sunday Independent (Ibid.). Freedom of the press is threatened by a trend of defamation lawsuits that result in compensation, with the 2000 Defamation Act requiring a much-needed review (Ibid.). With reference to this issue, the report cited the case of Independent Newspapers (Ireland) Limited v. Ireland, which reached the European Court of Human Rights in 2017 and was successfully appealed, due to the €1.25m compensation being too large and with this, a threat to press freedom (Ibid.; see also: Smyth, 2017). As a consequence, this has resulted in a climate of self-censorship and wariness of litigation, particularly of individuals who have been successful in the past and became “largely untouchable” (Ibid.). In April 2019, the Irish High Court ruled against the Information Commissioner finding that University College Cork should have released information under the freedom of information laws, which RSF considered to be a breach of press freedom (Ibid.; see also: McDermott, 2019). RSF also reported that revisions to existing laws are needed in order to protect journalists, such as the Communications (Retention of Data) Act 2011 (Ibid.). Additionally, the Garda Siochana Act of 2005 prevents law enforcement authorities from speaking to journalists without prior permission, with heavy penalties for enforcement agents if they breach the act; separately, the successful referendum and subsequent Blasphemy (Abolition of Offences and Related Matters) Act 2019 was seen as a welcomed move (Ibid.; Houses of the Oireachtas, 2019).

Newspapers and market

The 2019 Reuters Digital News Report described how topics in the media mainly revolve around the issue of Brexit, which could see a significant impact on Ireland over other EU countries, as well as misinformation related to political advertising around the time of the abortion referendum mentioned above, with the latter requiring a “citizens assembly” to help better inform the public (Suiter, 2019). The Transparent Referendum Initiative undertook fact-checking activities with regard to the abortion referendum and found that some content was coming from abroad, which caused Facebook and Google to stop all political advertising (Ibid.). The 2018 campaign for the presidency, a role that is considered to be mainly ceremonial, received extra media attention after politician Peter Casey made disparaging remarks about travelers (Ibid.; see also: Spain, 2018). Recent developments with more prominence of alternative media outlets challenge mainstream media and caused the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland to initiate a media literacy campaign called “Be Media Smart”, in order to help individuals better identify sources of news (Ibid.). The report also mentioned the Defamation Act and recent changes to the limits of payouts, and reiterated like other sources the need for revisions to the act (Ibid.). NewsBrands Ireland was successful in its lobbying for the reduction of VAT on print newspapers, which came into effect in January 2019, and at the same time is campaigning for “#journalismmatters”, which looks at five areas “to support independent journalism which called for the reform of defamation, the introduction of a media minister in the government, and provision of more training” (Ibid.). Digital entrant Noteworthy was supported by the Google News Initiative and crowdfunding (see below for more on this) (Ibid.). In terms of media concentration, the Irish Times acquired the Landmark Media group, meaning that the Irish Examiner was no longer in the hands of the Crosbie family, who had owned it since 1872 (Ibid.). Increased funding was allocated to the public broadcasters RTE and TG4, with the former needing to better address younger audiences as well as redevelop its streaming and app services (Ibid.). Virgin Media Ireland, which acquired TV3, has seen a rise in profits of 7%; it owns mobile, broadband, subscription, and free TV channels (Ibid.). DMG Group looked to reduce its newsrooms for the Irish Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday with 35 voluntary redundancies, and all staff were made redundant at the print edition of The Times by News Corp UK & Ireland (Ibid.).[1][2]

Audience news consumption

The 2019 Reuters Digital News Report combines results of weekly usage across television, radio, and print, as well as online in Ireland (Newman et al., 2019: 93). The public broadcaster, RTÉ, ranks at the top at 61% for tv, radio, and print, and 33% for online (Ibid.). In terms of the top four newspapers, the Irish Independent (broadsheet, quality) was at 27% for online with no stats for print, the Irish Times (broadsheet, quality) was at 18% for online and 17% for print, the Irish Examiner (broadsheet, quality) was at 10% for online and 10% for print, and the Irish Mirror (tabloid, popular) was at 8% for online with no stats for print (Ibid.).

Public service media

Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ) is the public broadcaster for Ireland. Its vision statement is to “champion Irish culture by captivating audiences with trusted, engaging and challenging content; celebrating our country’s rich diversity; and cultivating Ireland’s talent”, and has a simpler mission statement to “enrich Irish life with content that challenges, educates and entertains” (RTÉ, 2020f; RTÉ, 2020b). The Broadcasting Act 2009 requires RTÉ to fulfil three types of reporting that include statements related to public service, it strategy, and a review of its activities through its annual report (RTÉ, 2020d). In addition to an Executive Board, the RTÉ has an Audience Council that consists of fifteen members of the public, and assists with advising on audience needs (RTÉ, 2020e). The RTÉ is funded by TV licenses and commercial revenue that consists of advertising and “other commercial activities” (RTÉ, 2020a). The RTÉ has its own guidelines, with these core editorial values “that include a commitment to operate in the public interest, providing news and current affairs that is fair and impartial, accurate and challenging, be honest and transparent in all of our activities, take personal responsibility for pursuing the organisation’s goals” (RTÉ, 2020c).

Public trust in the press and media

According to the 2019 Digital News Report, overall trust in Irish news was at 48%, with Ireland ranking 9th out of the 38 countries in the study (Newman et al., 2019: 93). The most trusted sources of news are RTÉ News (public broadcaster) and BBC News, and the least trusted are HuffPost and Yahoo! News (Ibid.). On a scale of 1-10, the most trusted brands for news are public broadcaster RTÉ News (7.28), and the top five newspapers following these are the Irish Times (broadsheet, quality; 7.16), the Irish Independent (broadsheet, quality; 7.00), the Irish Examiner (broadsheet, quality; 6.84), and the Irish Daily Mail (tabloid, popular; 5.57; Ibid.).[3]

In 2016, 1,002 Irish participants took part in Special Eurobarometer 452, titled Media pluralism and democracy (Eurobarometer, 2016). Here, 71% of participants thought that the national media represented a “diversity of views and opinions”, and 47% thought that the media were “free from political or commercial pressure” (Eurobarometer, 2016: factsheet for Ireland). Likewise, 44% thought that public broadcasting services were free from political influence (Ibid.). General trust in media was at 61% (Ibid.), reliability in television was at 71%, radio at 77%, and newspapers (both print and online) at 60%; however, trust in social media platforms was low at 35% (Ibid.). A third of participants were aware of regulatory bodies at 27%, with 49% thinking that they were free from political or commercial influence (Ibid.). In the study, 14% of Irish respondents thought that journalists, bloggers, and social media users were the targets of hate speech and abuse (Ibid.).

Online only/digital entrants

In terms of online-only brands, the Reuters Digital News Report for 2019 lists the following as the most-used sources of news “used last week”: TheJournal.ie (32%), BreakingNews.ie (22%), Her.ie/joe.ie (14%), Yahoo! News (8%), and BuzzFeed News (8%; Ibid.).

In terms of digital entrants that publish longform news stories, Noteworthy, which is owned by Journal Media, is an investigative, crowdfunded platform (Walker, 2019). Journal Media, owns TheJournal.ie, which was founded in 2020 and has 75 employees; with TheJournal.ie being “Ireland’s most-read online news source” (Engaged Journalism Accelerator, n.d.). Noteworthy follows an editorial process where the public puts ideas forth for stories (Walker, 2019). It received an undisclosed amount of funding from the Google Digital News Innovation fund, and it started out with three members on its editorial staff, an editor, a reporter, and a designer; with a view to expand with freelance journalists (Walker, 2019). Noteworthy has the slogan “We Create, Support and Deliver Stories that Matter” (Noteworthy, 2020).

Current studies and context

Recent data on risks to media pluralism in Ireland refer back to 2017, showing that Ireland has mixed rankings with “medium risk” to market plurality (57%), “medium risk” to social inclusiveness (61%), and “low risk” to political independence (11%), and basic protection (29%; Flynn, 2017: 5-12). In summary, the report highlighted the following in its conclusion regarding each category (Ibid.: 13);  that although there is political influence with appointments at public service media, regulatory bodies, and determining licence fees, there was no substantial evidence that shows a misuse of power in these instances; that key recommendations from the report rest with two main points, “the financial precarity of both media entities and those who work for them”, and “the lack of diversity amongst both those who oversee/regulate media and those who work within them” (Ibid.).

In terms of the current RSF rankings, Ireland is ranked as 13th (out of 180) on the 2020 World Press Freedom Index, a rise from 15th in 2019 (RSF, 2020b). According to the 2019 Digital News Report, overall trust in Irish news was at 48%, with Ireland ranking 9th out of the 38 countries in the study (Newman et al., 2019: 93). Ireland has an internet penetration rate of 93% (Ibid.: 92).

Regulatory environment

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) is responsible for the regulation of radio and television broadcast media. The BAI “regulates all content broadcast on all Irish licensed broadcasters, both programming and commercial content. In addition to processing broadcasting complaints, the BAI monitors broadcast content for compliance with broadcasting codes and rules” (BAI, 2020c). The BAI is in charge of licensing for television and radio (BAI, 2020b), and has its own set of codes and standards (BAI, 2020a).

The press council

The Press Council of Ireland works under the Office of the Press Ombudsman. The Press Ombudsman makes complaints decisions based on the Code of Practice, where the public can present a complaint for mediation by the Press Ombudsman (The Press Council of Ireland and Office of the Press Ombudsman, 2020a). The Press Council “[upholds] the freedom of the press” and addresses professional principles from the Code of Practice, and “operates with the support and cooperation of member publications and journalists” (Ibid.). It hears appeals from the decisions made by the Press Ombudsman, as well as dealing with complaints referred by the Press Ombudsman (Ibid.). The Press Council is “independent of both government and media” (Ibid.). Both entities have recently reviewed their “strategic plan” for the next two years, that is, 2020 to 2022 (The Press Council of Ireland and Office of the Press Ombudsman, 2020c). Their mission statement, taken from the 2019 annual report, says that “The Press Council of Ireland and the Office of the Press Ombudsman exist to safeguard and promote professional and ethical standards in Irish newspapers, magazines and online news publications” (The Press Council of Ireland and Office of the Press Ombudsman, 2020b).

In terms of the complaints process, organisations and individuals can file a complaint  “about an article published in a member publication” or “about the behaviour of a journalist, so long as the person or organisation making the complaint is personally affected, the complaint presents evidence of a possible breach of the Press Council’s Code of Practice, the article was published, or the behaviour took place, within the previous three months”; however, complaints must be raised first with the editor (Ibid.: 12). Possible resolutions to complaints include “the amendment or deletion of an online article, the publication of a correction, apology or clarification, an undertaking by the editor on future coverage of the subject matter of the article under complaint, the publication of a right of reply, an explanation from the editor as to the background to the article, a meeting with the editor” (Ibid.).

Recent press council report/cases

In terms of the cases for 2019, 252 complaints were received (The Press Council of Ireland and Office of the Press Ombudsman, 2020b: 4), and 32 complaints were decided on by the press ombudsman where 9 were upheld, 15 not upheld, 5 resolved through mediation, and 3 deemed without sufficient evidence (Ibid.: 5). The press council received 15 appeals, where 3 were upheld, 7 were not admitted, 3 were rejected, and 2 carried over to 2020 (Ibid.). In terms of cases resolved, these were 25 cases where 17 consisted of editing or deleting online content, 4 consisted of a correction, clarification, or apology, 2 consisted of “undertaking about future coverage of subject matter of complaint”, 1 involved a podcast, and 1 involved meeting with the editor (Ibid.: 6). The 252 total complaints are broken down between 140 national newspapers (both print and online editions), 48 not indicated by the complainant, 26 local newspapers, 22 online-only news sites, 12 non-member publications, 3 student publications, and 1 magazine (Ibid.). The majority (33.9%) of complaints had to do with truth and accuracy (Ibid.: 7). The 2019 report provides brief summaries of the 9 complaints upheld by the press ombudsman (Ibid.: 9-10), and the three cases upheld on appeal (Ibid.: 17).

The Press Council of Ireland has 13 members, with 7 independent members, and 6 from the “press industry”; there are 8 members of the Code Committee that include representatives from news organisations, the union, as well as the press ombudsman, and there are four members of the Appointments Committee that act as “independent public interest directors” (Ibid.: 15).

The 2019 report cites specific areas of typical complaints, such as court reporting. Names and addresses of people giving evidence are part of the public record, however, there are exceptions such as safeguarding victims (Ibid.: 12-13). 2019 was the first year to witness a complaint about a podcast, which was resolved with a correction in a subsequent podcast and relevant signposting for listeners of the correction (Ibid.). The report also has a list of its members that covers national newspapers, local newspapers, magazines, online-only publications, and student publications (Ibid.: 21-27).

Other bodies and codes of ethics

Ireland’s National Union of Journalists based in Dublin follows the 2011 Code of Conduct (NUJ, 2020; NUJ, 2011). The Irish Section of the Association of European Journalists does not have a code of ethics (AEJ, 2020).

Journalism culture

In the Worlds of Journalism Study for Ireland (n=304), Irish participants had worked an average of 15.25 years as journalists, with over half of respondents working at specific desks like politics, local news, or sports (63.5%; Rafter et al., 2017). Journalists are trained, many with an advanced university degree (40.2%), or with a specialised degree in journalism or communication studies (73%; Rafter et al., 2017: 1). In general, Irish journalists adhere to a value of factual and objective reporting (Ibid.). In the study, the categories that most participants responded to in terms of values (i.e. more than 50% responding “extremely” and “very important”) were: “Report things as they are” (94.4%), “Be a detached observer” (75.2%), “Educate the audience” (72.7%), “Tell stories about the world” (67.9%), “Provide analysis of current affairs” (63%), “Monitor and scrutinize political leaders” (61.5%), “Let people express their views” (61.4%), “Provide information people need to make political decisions” (54.2%), “Monitor and scrutinize business” (50.7%; Ibid.: 2). With regards to professional ethics, most of the participants in the study “strongly” or “somewhat agreed” that they must respect codes of professional ethics in every instance (87.7%), and a larger number thought “what is ethical in journalism depends on the specific situation” (59.3%), a smaller number thought that “it is acceptable to set aside moral standards if extraordinary circumstances require it” (37.3%), and a similar number thought that ethics came down to the individual’s judgement (35.1%; Ibid.: 3).[3]

Other information

Governing framework
Parliamentary representative democracy (Houses of the Oireachtas, 2020)

Parliament
Houses of the Oireachtas

Seats
160, Dáil Éireann/Lower House (Clarke, 2020)

Last election
2020 (Clarke, 2020)

Seats held by women
22% (The World Bank, 2020)

Ruling parties
Most seats to: Fianna Fáil (38), Sinn Féin (37), and Fine Gael (35; Clarke, 2020)

Nationalist party
Sinn Féin (Phelan, 2020)

Origins of key minority groups in 2018
Protestants, travellers, Eastern Europeans (Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Polish, Slovakians), with asylum seekers from Moldova, Nigeria, Romania, Zimbabwe, the Ukraine, as well as Poland (Minority Rights, 2020).

Constitutional text on freedom of speech/expression/the press

  • (The State guarantees liberty for the exercise of the following rights, subject to public order and morality:) The right of the citizens to express freely their convictions and opinions. The education of public opinion being, however, a matter of such grave import to the common good, the State shall endeavour to ensure that organs of public opinion, such as the radio, the press, the cinema, while preserving their rightful liberty of expression, including criticism of Government policy, shall not be used to undermine public order or morality or the authority of the State.

Media model (Hallin and Mancini, 2004: 67)
North Atlantic or Liberal Model

Key events
click here for the BBC’s recent articles on Ireland.
click here for The Guardian’s recent articles on Ireland.

Bibliography

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BAI. 2019. BAI Report on Ownership and Control of Media Businesses 2015-2017. January 30, 2019. Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. [Online]. Available from: https://www.dccae.gov.ie/en-ie/communications/publications/Pages/BAI-Report-on-Ownership-and-Control-of-Media-Businesses-2015-2017.aspx.
BAI. 2020a. Codes & Standards. BAI Home. [Online]. Available from: https://www.bai.ie/en/codes-standards/.
BAI. 2020b. Licensing. Broadcasting. [Online]. Available from: https://www.bai.ie/en/broadcasting/licensing-2/.
BAI. 2020c. Regulation. Broadcasting. [Online]. Available from: https://www.bai.ie/en/broadcasting/regulation/.
Clarke, S. 2020. Irish general election: full results. February 11, 2020 at 08:17. The Guardian – Europe. [Online]. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/feb/10/ireland-election-latest-results-live-sinn-fein-fine-gael-fianna-fail.
Engaged Journalism Accelerator. n.d. How Journal Media funds investigations by letting users pitch-and-pay for stories they want published. [Online]. Available from: https://www.engagedjournalism.com/resources/journal-media-noteworthy-funding-investigative-stories.
Eurobarometer. 2016. Media pluralism and democracy – Special Eurobarometer 452 – Report. Digital Single Market. [Online]. Available from: https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/news/media-pluralism-and-democracy-special-eurobarometer-452.
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Hallin, D.C. and Mancini, P. 2004. Comparing media systems: Three models of media and politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hogan, C. 2019. Why Ireland’s battle over abortion is far from over. October 3, 2019 at 12:00. The Guardian – Lifestyle. [Online]. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/oct/03/why-irelands-battle-over-abortion-is-far-from-over-anti-abortionists.
Houses of the Oireachtas. 2019. Blasphemy (Abolition of Offences and Related Matters) Act 2019. [Online]. Available from: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/bills/bill/2019/59/.
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McDermott, S. 2019. ‘The Freedom of Information Act is dead’: High Court rules against Information Commissioner in UCC finding. April 2, 2019 at 20:36. thejournal.ie. [Online]. Available from: https://www.thejournal.ie/freedom-of-information-ireland-rte-ucc-high-court-ruling-4575582-Apr2019/.
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Walker, J. 2019. Irish news publisher launches platform to crowdfund investigation ideas submitted by public. April 8, 2019. PressGazette. [Online]. Available from: https://pressgazette.co.uk/irish-news-publisher-launches-platform-to-crowdfund-investigation-ideas-submitted-by-public/.
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[1] The Media Landscapes website does not have a page for Ireland.
[2] For a comprehensive view of media ownership, see the BAI Report on Ownership and Control of Media Businesses 2015-2017, reference is in the bibliography.
[3] The Global Journalist in the 21st Century (Weaver and Willnat, 2012) does not have a chapter on Ireland.

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