PROPOSALS for the media sector contained in the new Programme for Government are welcome and, assuming the new administration is agreed to by the membership of the three parties involved, their implementation will be a boost for the industry here, which has proven most trustworthy in the dissemination of information that was a crucial part of engaging with and encouraging people to go along with the medical advice being proffered on how best to suppress the Covid-19 virus.
Since the pandemic – which is still ongoing worldwide – started, the value of reliable news and information, and the highlighting of the great community spirit that pervades rural Ireland in particular, through local newspapers’ print and online platforms, became more apparent to people and also seems to have been well appreciated. ‘Ar scáth na chéile a mhaireann na daoine’ is a an apt Irish saying, meaning that people live in the shadow of one another, and therefore should always support each other, but more especially now at times like this.
Local media are pivotal in encouraging people to shop locally in order to get businesses that were forced to close during the restrictions up and running again, thereby saving existing jobs and perhaps even creating some new ones in time to come. Newspapers depend on the support of businesses advertising and people buying their various offerings, so they know only too well how important the local economy is and so do everything they can to reciprocate the support of their advertisers and customers through initiatives like The Southern Star’s current Shop Local campaign.
Regional newspapers in particular have been up against it in recent years, but many of them have compensated for some of the losses in sales of the print edition with their development of online platforms that command the same level of trust among consumers who engage with them in their quest for reliable news and information – content supplied by trained journalists with great experience and valuable local knowledge.
In recent months, that value has become more appreciated by government as they reached out to communities and people in every corner of the country and, in fairness to the outgoing administration, it has supported local newspapers in several good ways during the pandemic restrictions – for which the industry is truly grateful and is delighted to see issues that representative body, Local Ireland, has been knocking on politicians’ doors about over several years finally getting a proper hearing and acknowledgement.
Among the proposals in the new Programme for Government which affect news publishers are bringing together all policy functions relating to broadcast media, print media and online media into a single media division within a government department; expanding the remit of the Public Service Broadcasting Commission to become the ‘Future of Media Commission’ and considering the role of print, broadcast and online as ‘platform agnostic.’
Also of huge importance to local newspapers is the proposed review and reform of defamation laws to ensure a balanced approach to freedom of expression, the right to the protection of good name and reputation, and the right of access to justice. Of greatest concern has been the failure to carry out the required five-yearly reviews of the 2009 Defamation Act in a timely manner.
As David Ryan, president of Local Ireland, stated in welcoming the proposals, ‘The media market continues to evolve and converge and we have long campaigned for a dedicated Minister for Media or to extend the remit of the Department of Communications to include all media and not just the broadcast sector.’
Assuming the new government is formed – although it was still very much in the balance at the time of writing – Local Ireland will be engaging with them to discuss the proposals in more detail and how these should be implemented as a matter of urgency to ensure they support the news publisher industry. Meanwhile, local publishers will continue to do what they’re best at, serving their local communities with trusted news, views and information.