'Significant challenges' for newspapers highlighted

Updated / Wednesday, 29 May 2019 10:17

There has been a sharp decline in newspaper circulation

By Sinéad Crowley

Chairman of the Press Council of Ireland Sean Donlon has said newspapers face significant challenges which threaten the ability to function properly.

These include a drop in advertising revenue, a sharp decline in circulation and the operation of the Defamation Act 2009.

In its annual report of the Press Council published today, Mr Donlon says newspaper circulation in Ireland has halved over the last decade and advertising revenue is in sharp decline, with online advertising this year predicted to be at least five times that of the print sector.

He said the shortage of funds has brought about a decline in investigative journalism, public interest reporting and coverage of the activities of local authorities and other public bodies.

He also described the Defamation Act 2009 as a "major threat to press freedom" and said a review which was announced in November 2016 has yet to be published.

He said that in the absence of a reform of the Act, newspapers are inhibited from investigating and publishing matters that the public has the right to know and are reluctant to confront threats of legal actions.

In all, 464 complaints were received by the Office of the Press Ombudsman in 2018.

This is an increase in the number of complaints made in 2017, however in 2018 160 complaints related to a single cartoon in the Sunday Independent following the abortion referendum.

Twenty-four complaints were resolved to the satisfaction of the complainants and 30 were decided by the Press Ombudsman, an increase on previous years. Ten complaints were upheld.

The Principles of the Code breached in 2018 included Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy), Principle 4 (Respect for Rights), Principle 5 (Privacy), Principle 9 (Children), and for the first time Principle 5.4 which deals with the reporting of suicide.

Meanwhile the Press Ombudsman has said social media is sucking the resources away from newspapers.

Peter Feeney said there had been a huge move towards social media as a source of news over the last 20 years.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Mr Feeney pointed out how a site like Facebook would draw a readers' attention to a newspaper story, which is then read online but the newspaper does not receive revenue from the reader actually buying the paper. However, Facebook receives the online revenue.

Mr Feeney also warned that print editors do not have enough resources to properly investigate even commonplace stories.