Remarks of Chairman Sean Donlon at launch of 2016 Annual Report

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Thursday, 25th May 2017
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Launch of the 2016 Annual Report of the Press Council of Ireland and Office of the Press Ombudsman  -  Remarks of Chairman, Seán Donlon

I begin by acknowledging that the press in Ireland continue to provide a generally reliable news service. They adhere to the Code of Practice of the Press Council which is the expression of best professional practice to which our member publications, national and local newspapers (print and online), magazines and online-only news publications have committed themselves. The Press Ombudsman considers complaints that the Code of Practice has been breached and the Press Council considers appeals of the Press Ombudsman’s decisions, both of which are independent of the press and of the Government. Details of all complaints upheld in 2016 are contained in the annual report published today. I am particularly grateful to all the editors who co-operated fully in our work.

A significant number of complainants and their legal advisors continue to ignore the machinery of the Ombudsman and the Council in favour of the prospect of financial reward by using the court system. This is a matter of concern. So also are legal actions or threats of such action by individuals and companies whose financial resources are manifestly greater than those of the press.

The Press Council welcomes the fact that the Minister for Justice is currently reviewing the 2009 Defamation Act and we look forward to an early outcome. Reforms suggested by the Council and others would result in the possibility of lesser financial court awards and more frequent use by complainants of the machinery of the Ombudsman and Council which is free, fast and fair.

A major current concern for the traditional press in Ireland and worldwide is the rapid growth of the new so called social media such as Facebook, Google, Twitter and YouTube. Facebook and Google are now the largest and most influential entities in the world of news business. Together with the other social media they are widely accessed in Ireland and are, unlike broadcasters and the press, subject to no regulation or oversight, governmental or otherwise. Thus they can and do carry offensive, inaccurate and inappropriate Irish content as, for example, the posting of a video of a young woman clearly in distress who later took her life and the grossly inaccurate reporting of the number of suicides in Cork. I know that Ministers share our concerns and I hope that they will work nationally and internationally to curb the irresponsible activities of these new publishers.