Press freedom threatened by high concentration of media ownership and the need for defamation reform.
The highly concentrated nature of media ownership remained the largest threat to press freedom in Ireland. Independent News and Media (INM) controlled much of the daily and Sunday newspaper market, while broadcasting was dominated by the semi-state company RTE. Frequent defamation suits and the extraordinarily high damages awarded by Irish courts also posed a significant threat to press freedom. In November, the justice minister pledged to reform the Defamation Act in early 2020 – reform that is long overdue and now urgently needed, as a review was intended within five years of the law’s passage in 2009. In 2017, the European Court of Human Rights found that a €1.25 million award in a defamation case in Ireland was a breach of the right to freedom of expression. The possibility of exorbitant damages, combined with the high costs of defending defamation suits, has resulted in a climate of self-censorship, in which prominent individuals known to be litigious become largely untouchable by the Irish media. In May, a high court judge overturned a decision of the information commissioner ordering University College, Cork to comply with a freedom of information request by public service broadcaster RTE, undermining the presumption of disclosure. The Communications (Retention of Data) Act 2011 was due to be revised and replaced, however no bill has yet been tabled, and the General Scheme published in 2017 was criticised for failing to provide specific protections for journalists. Interviewing police sources has been virtually impossible since the Garda Siochana Act of 2005, which bans police officers from talking to journalists without prior authorisation. Officers contravening the ban risk dismissal, a fine, or up to seven years in prison. The adoption of the Blasphemy Act in December was a welcome move for press freedom, following the vote by referendum in October 2018 to decriminalise blasphemy.
15 in 2019
15 in 2019