Remarks of Press Ombudsman Peter Feeney at launch of 2017 Annual Report

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Thursday, 24th May 2018
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Remarks by Mr Peter Feeney, Press Ombudsman, at the launch of the 2017 Annual Report for The Press Council of Ireland and the Office of the Press Ombudsman in the Maldron Hotel, Pearse Street, Dublin 2

24 May 2018

The Press Council and the Office of the Press Ombudsman have been in operation now for 10 years. We believe we have an important role to play in maintaining a free and responsible press, and in promoting quality journalism, a vital element in any society. The press not only informs the public but is fundamental in holding public and private entities to account. I know how critical both independent scrutiny, and even more important, the possibility of independent scrutiny, is in modifying and influencing behaviour. It is a crucial check and balance in our system of Government and a well-functioning civil society. To achieve this role the public must have confidence and trust in the integrity of the press. The Offices of the Press Ombudsman and the Press Council play an important role in encouraging high journalistic standards through the Code of Practice and our complaints handling services. Both are designed not to punish or shame publications but rather to encourage quality journalism and to give the public confidence in the accuracy of what they read in their national newspapers, their local newspapers, their magazines and their online-only news services.

The growth of online news publishing has undermined the business model of traditional print publishing. Publishers traditionally relied on advertising revenue to supplement their sale revenues. Most newspapers have responded to the digital challenge by producing online versions of their print editions. However, making a financial return from online news is very challenging, especially when multinational online operations such as Facebook and Google are so dominant in the market. As well as having all national newspapers, most regional newspapers and many magazines as member publications of the Press Council we also now have several online-only news publications as members. We will endeavour in the decade to come to ensure that we promote god journalism on whatever platform publishes news and commentary.

With declining circulation and commercial revenue there is a serious challenge to the ability of newspapers both national and local to consistently provide quality journalism and to undertake in-depth investigative reporting, reporting which is essential if both the corporate world and governments are to be held to account. That accountability requires quality journalism that has the trust of the community. Well-resourced newspapers need to look behind government and corporate media campaigns to get to the underlying issues. Reduced revenue has put at risk that scrutiny in both national and local level. The function of national newspapers is self-evident, but it is only our local newspapers that can really cover local issues. Their communities can only be involved in activities and issues if they not only know about what is happening locally them but are provided with objective reporting and analysis that goes beyond any local council spin. Quality journalism needs to be well resourced.

It is becoming increasingly clear that communities and governments are concerned about the impact of multinational social media. The recent Facebook and Cambridge Analytica revelations highlight the extent to which these companies influence our daily lives. As we go to the polling stations tomorrow to vote in the referendum on the eight amendment this concern is particularly pertinent.

The growth of multi-national online publishing presents both a threat and a challenge to national media. There is a yearning for quality journalism; journalism consumers can trust. Recent research has indicated an improvement in public trust in newspapers and a corresponding decline in trust in social media news.

The Press Council provides an alternative to Government regulation. Newspapers have traditionally resisted government regulation. A free press cannot be beholden to government or subject to government control. Yet the public expects that the press will be responsible and adhere to high standards of journalistic behaviour. The Offices of the Press Ombudsman and the Press Council promote good journalistic practice. We provide the public with a means of having their complaints dealt with in an independent, free and fast manner.

With one decade and 3,500 complaints behind us we look forward to the next decade.  We are sure it will be challenging, but we are also sure that it will be exciting. Society needs good journalism, we hope we can contribute to that through our Code of Practice and our complaints-handling processes.