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Lamentably late media ownership guidelines

May 31st, 2015 12:06 PM

By Southern Star Team

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ArchonWHAT a cosy speech Justice Minister, Frances Fitzgerald, made at the launch of the 2014 Annual Report of the Press Council of Ireland and Office of the Press Ombudsman!

She reminded the scribblers of the importance of a free press in a society where the print media embraces the Internet and social media and, for its troubles, encounters difficulties when trying to ‘monetise’ (her word) the endeavour. ‘Ease of access of all sorts of information is placing pressures on how the traditional press approaches questions of what it reports and how. All of that means that mistakes get made,’ she said, according to her press release.

Journos applauded the profundity of her comments even if not quite sure of what she meant by ‘monetise’. Nor did anyone want to knock her proposition that the Press Council and the Press Ombudsman successfully promote ‘best practice’ when dealing with complaints.

Indeed, the geniality of the well-bred Blueshirt who went out of her way to be cordial with the reptiles was appreciated, as was her instruction that political journalism needed to be ‘incisive and able to cut through the noise and irrelevancies’.

An authoritative statement indeed, but she had more to offer. Irish hacks, she said, should facilitate ‘informed debate’ by focussing on … wait for it … the FACTS.

Control of media

Yep, the facts! Her observation was a worthy base for thought, and no doubt appreciated by those deficient in marbles, but whose task it is to gather and disseminate factual information on contemporary events and happenings!

Nobody mentioned, of course, that if the captivating politico had been familiar with Tom Stoppard’s truism about ‘comment being free but facts are on expenses,’ she might have made a teensy-weensy bit more sense.

Nonetheless, whatever about the journos or Tom Stoppard, it is a fact that politicos establish their careers by totally ignoring things known to exist, such as the mortal danger currently facing the Irish meeja.

The point at issue is not ‘monetism’ (whatever that is). It is the state’s failure to combat the menace of a small group of people gaining control of the Irish media and influencing the direction of news, current affairs and cultural content. Surely that is of interest to a Minister for Justice!

So serious is the clear and present danger posed by one person or a single business exercising unreasonable influence over organs of the press and media that Labour’s communications minister, Alex White, published last December proposed media-merger legislation and accompanying guidelines on how to deal with the peril.

As reported in The Irish Times, White will decide if a media merger is in the public interest, while the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission will determine if a deal can proceed on competition grounds.

Enquiry into ownership

Séamus Dooley, NUJ secretary, described the draft guidelines as ‘lamentably late’ and that since 1974 his organisation has been demanding greater vigilance by the state in ensuring media plurality, in terms of ownership and editorial control.

‘Successive governments have allowed a small group of powerful people to gain control of the media and the draft is incapable of undoing that damage,’ he complained.

White’s recommendations are intended (hopefully) to apply across print, broadcast and online. They specify the amount of shares or holdings that constitute an influence on the direction or policy of a media outlet.

A holding or voting strength of more than 20% will constitute a ‘significant interest,’ while a 10% share also could constitute a ‘significant interest’. Minister White defined a ‘significant interest as having ‘sufficient voting, financial or ownership strength’ to influence direction or policy.

He considers it ‘undesirable’ to allow any one media business or individual to hold excessive ‘significant interests’ within a sector, or across different sectors of media businesses in the state”.

At the same time, Dooley called for the establishment of a commission of inquiry into all aspects of the country’s media policy, including ownership, commercial and editorial control, employment standards, training and cross-ownership.

He claimed that the failure to deal with media dominance in Ireland by a small group was having grave consequences on employment standards in the national and regional newspaper sectors.

Against a background of increasing controversy relating to media ownership, it was interesting to note that in the polished spiel the Minister uttered with such off-handed ease no mention was made of White’s proposed legislation or of Dooley’s ‘commission of enquiry’ into the future of Ireland’s media.

Was that because she didn’t give a hoot? Or was it something else?

Going up!

Here’s some good news. The Labour Party officially is about to enter cloud cuckoo land or, to be more precise, it is moving to a magnificent penthouse overlooking the River Liffey in the south Dublin docklands.

For a party that’s politically bust and facing extinction at the next general election, it’s no mean feat when one takes into consideration the €212,625 per annum rent. Apparently attendance at meetings has grown to such an extent in its present quarters on Ely Place that the Cloth Cap Brigaders need the extra space!

Shaggy dog story

What an excellent suggestion from FF councillor Kevin O’Keeffe! He wants Cork County Council to take DNA mouth swab samples from dogs and to add them to the database that will be created when the Coalition microchips all the dogs of Ireland. Yeah, that’s on the cards!

The canine DNA then will be used to match the crap that the mutts deposit on footpaths and ‘put fear into irresponsible dog owners’. The cost? A trifling €45 per dog, and a further €80 to DNA-identify the crap!

The cash can be recouped in fines and other administration costs from the owner, O’Keeffe optimistically suggested.

Dog day funeral

A most unusual funeral recently took place in a West Cork town. A black hearse was followed by a second black hearse. Behind the second black hearse walked a solitary woman with a savage dog on a leash.

Behind her were about twenty women walking single file. A female bystander couldn’t stand the curiosity, approached the cortege, and said to the lady with the dog: ‘I’m so sorry for your loss and this may be a bad time to disturb you, but I’ve never seen a funeral like this. Whose funeral is it?’

‘My husband’s,’ replied the woman with the savage dog.

‘What happened to him?’

‘He yelled at me and my dog attacked and killed him.’

She inquired further: ‘But who’s in the second hearse?’

The West Cork woman answered: ‘My mother-in-law. She was trying to help my husband when the dog turned on her.’

A very poignant and touching moment of sisterhood and silence passed between the two women.

‘Can I borrow the dog?’ the woman quietly asked.

‘Yes,’ the other replied. ‘Get in line!’

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