Address by Chair of the Press Council at the launch of the 2022 Annual Report of the Press Council of Ireland and Office of the Press Ombudsman
Wednesday, 4th October 2023
- Welcome to all, especially Deputy Smyth. We look forward to hearing from her very shortly.
- Thank my fellow directors, including Vice-Chair Maeve Conrick. Ruth Barrington and Patricia O’Donovan retired in 2022 and were replaced by Alan Dukes and James Doorley.
- They were selected by our Appointments Committee, of which Bride Rosney was a much-valued member. We were saddened by her death and send our condolences to her partner and family.
- For most of 2022 Peter Feeney served as Press Ombudsman, before he retired last October after eight years of distinguished service.
- He was succeeded by the present Ombudsman, Susan McKay, known to you all as a journalist of great ability and integrity. She is committed to maintaining the effective operation of her Office and the highest standards of professional journalism, in print and online.
- I must also mention the continuing outstanding work of our Case Manager, Bernie Grogan, who has been a rock of hard work and good sense ever since the Press Council was founded.
- Susan will say a few words shortly about her work and plans as Press Ombudsman.
- During the last year we have seen the publication of the Report on the Future of Media and the establishment of Coimisiún na Meán. The Department of Justice has published the draft general scheme of an amended Defamation Bill, on which the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice has just issued its report.
- The Press Council welcomes the fact that our independence, effectiveness, and value are recognised on all sides, and that our proposals for certain enhancements of our role have been taken on board.
- But we are not indifferent to or immune to the changes we see around us.
- The regulation of social media will be a mammoth task for Coimisiún na Meán. It is vital for everyone in traditional media – broadcast, print or online – that it succeeds in getting to grips with this task.
- Social media are already to a large degree setting the new agenda – above all for younger people – and we are all aware of the very serious political and societal consequences that can follow when the global platforms are not held accountable.
- The dramatic events at RTE over the summer have brought the question of the funding of public service media into renewed focus. The press and the broadcast media in many ways have a symbiotic relationship. That is why we in the Press Council have a strong interest in what happens next. I hope the Government does not delay in making a decision.
- I also look forward to the early presentation of the full Defamation Bill to the Oireachtas.
- One of the recommendations of Coimisiún na Meán was that public service media funding should be open to all providers, not just TV or radio stations. I understand that the Department is working on a scheme to support local newspapers in their court and council reporting. All such supports would be very welcome indeed, as was the elimination of VAT on newsprint in last year’s budget.
- However, the financial challenges facing the press remain very great. Dramatic declines in advertising revenue have been accompanied by continuing falls in print circulation. These have been only partially redressed by online subscriptions and other forms of income.
- The quality of Irish journalism remains very high. But this cannot be taken for granted, as staff numbers and the employment of freelancers are cut amidst great pressure on journalists to produce.
- How to ensure the future of quality journalism will be a fundamental question over the coming years.
- The Press Council and the Office of the Press Ombudsman are independent of both the government and the press industry. We are, however, funded exclusively by our members. It was of course they who set us up, and who benefit from our existence. Their support is obviously indispensable.
- However, the Press Council is inevitably suffering a knock-on effect from the loss of revenue within the industry. Our annual budget, most of which goes to fund the Office of the Press Ombudsman, is in real terms now less than half of what it was when we were founded in 2008. I think we deliver an efficient and effective service on an ever-shorter shoestring.
- The Code of Practice which our members are committed to upholding calls on them to maintain the highest professional and ethical standards. At a time when they are under acute pressure, the Office of the Press Ombudsman and the Press Council are more important than ever, and must be able to do their jobs. This is an issue on which as Chair of the Press Council I will remain vigilant.