Freedom of the Press in Ireland: political apathy and the commercialisation of information

, by Robert Tolan

All the versions of this article: [Deutsch] [English]

Freedom of the Press in Ireland: political apathy and the commercialisation of information
Dublin. Photo Credit: Giuseppe Milo (via Flickr)

According to Reporters sans Frontieres, Ireland ranks 15th in the world for press freedom, a poor result in a country famous for its writers. Over the years, Ireland has steadily declined in its press freedom, which has had frightening consequences : an increased political apathy and a commodification of the truth. The reason, as RSF terms it, is the concentration of the Irish media.

It cannot be called anything other than a cartel, the main players in nationwide and regional print publications being Irish News and Media - of which the Irish Independent is the flagship - and the Irish Times. The state broadcaster, RTE, dominates the airwaves whilst the wholly digital Journal.ie rules over Irish digital news. It is instructive to examine the last member of the cartel to illustrate the decay of journalism in Ireland.

As you can imagine, clicks generate the Journal’s revenue as it does not have a subscription option, and thank goodness for that as the quality of its articles leaves the reader wanting. There appears to be no editorial process as its output includes frequent misspellings, grammatical errors and factual inaccuracies as evidenced by daily redactions. In essence, this publication does not do what it says on the tin, far from a ‘journal’ of news, it is rather an amalgam of purported happenings and assaults on the English language.

Worryingly, this is Ireland’s most popular publication amongst young people. Anecdotally, the comments section of the articles must be the draw as lately I have been skipping the articles to look at there. Interestingly, real journalism - incisive opinions supported by facts - can be found there. Unfortunately, the comments section has recently become censored so it is likely the last vestiges of journalism on the site will disappear.

This is unlikely to stem the flow of traffic to the site. People have become too used to faceless and unaccountable moderators pontificating over what is and what is not a valid viewpoint. In the words of Howard Beale, it is time to get ‘mad as hell’ and not take it anymore.

The road ahead for press accountability, a crucial aspect of press freedom, looks bleak. One cannot exist without the other as a free press by definition has the teeth to hold itself to certain standards.. The Irish government has recently moved toward enacting hate speech legislation, sorely needed in a country of increased far-right and far-left activity. The bill, in its current form, appears loophole friendly. Note, there is a strong correlation between a restricted press and the preponderance of extreme views. If one cannot express themselves freely in a conventional form, they, if these views are sincerely felt, will find other ways to express them.

If we assume this legislation keeps its current form under political scrutiny, its articles will be used to litigate against the braver parts of the media. Now corporations, this will likely sap the little bit of colour left in the Irish Times and the Irish Independent away. As a reader of the latter, these papers are largely identical in their Conservative viewpoints, as well as in many other respects For this reason, neither provide a voice for the contrarian, and if they attempt to do so, all that can be heard is a whimper. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on my mood, I have fallen into the hole that is Ludwig Wittgenstein’s philosophy. Unlike the Irish press, I will admit bias when I say the following : limited language limits one’s world. As a maths student, I will extend this and say the press is a subset of the world, therefore limited language is a limited press.

The Irish press is severely hampered in its failure in its use of language, which is so abject as to suggest it is deliberate.. Not content to adhere to an acceptable standard of writing as mentioned, it goes beyond this and writes to say nothing. The sole exception is Michael Harding of the Irish Times who, as it happens, is one of the few major Irish journalists not to have studied journalism in college.

This suggests there is something rotten at the heart of Irish journalism courses, perhaps simply the lie that journalism is a trade that can be taught in a university amphitheatre. Regardless, the product has been a generation of pseudo-journalists with journalism degrees that are skilled at writing whilst remaining totally devoid of opinion.

However, there is hope. My own college, Trinity College Dublin, is a case in point. The Publications Committee supports about 10 papers, magazines and student journals which are all free to do as they choose. This mandate goes as far as supporting a satirical newspaper that has ended up in a few legal battles but is still going strong. It is fair to say there is a stream of young people committed to a free press in Ireland, all that remains is for it to be tapped into.

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