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Freedom of the Press - Ireland (2007)

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 2 May 2007
Cite as Freedom House, Freedom of the Press - Ireland (2007), 2 May 2007, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/478cd52428.html [accessed 18 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Status: Free
Legal Environment: 4 (of 30)
Political Environment: 7 (of 40)
Economic Environment: 5 (of 30)
Total Score: 16 (of 100)
(Lower scores = freer)

Press freedom is constitutionally guaranteed and generally respected in practice. Archaic defamation laws are still in place under which journalists remain guilty until proven innocent, but a new defamation bill was introduced at the end of 2006, following a growing movement to enact new media legislation. The bill decriminalizes most forms of defamation and will bring Irish laws into closer conformance with international standards. However, the bill has drawn criticism for a clause criminalizing the publication of "gravely harmful sentiments" and allowing summary convictions for "minor" transgressions. The proposed law incorporates a proposal for a press ombudsman and a press council – an independent watchdog that will deal with public complaints and regulate the media under a new code of conduct covering areas such as accuracy, fairness, privacy, and incitement to hatred. The bill further introduces the defense of "reasonable publication," under which journalists will not be held liable for a statement – even if it is subsequently proven to be false – if they acted in accordance with professional ethics and public interest justified publication. A new privacy bill was introduced alongside the defamation legislation but was met with less enthusiasm by both the press and the government. Journalists argued that overly broad clauses in the proposed law could allow everyday journalistic activity, such as telephone calls, e-mails, and approaches to sources, to lead to allegations of harassment and trespass. Some speculated that the law was proposed to counterbalance the more liberal defamation bill. Both bills were under discussion at year's end.

In late 2006, Irish Times editor Geraldine Kennedy and senior correspondent Colm Keena were accused of publishing classified information in an article disclosing details of the investigation of Bertie Ahern by the Mahon tribunal, a government anticorruption body. Following their indictment, the journalists destroyed all relevant documents in order to protect their source. In November, the tribunal announced plans to obtain an order from the high court forcing Kennedy and Keena to reveal their sources or face up to two years in prison or a US$300,000 fine. In November, multimillionaire Denis O'Brien was awarded US$990,000 in damages from the Mirror Newspaper Group, the highest award in Irish history for a defamation suit. In 1998, the Irish Mirror had alleged that O'Brien had paid former minister of communications Ray Burke US$60,000 to secure a radio broadcasting license for 98FM radio station – an allegation the newspaper later admitted was false.

The national public broadcaster, Radio Telefis Eireann, dominates the radio and television sectors, but the growth of cable and satellite has begun to weaken the state broadcaster's monopoly over the industry. According to the U.S. State Department, there were 54 independent radio stations and 2 independent television stations operating during the year. British public and private television offers the main competition to Irish programming. According to the British Broadcasting Corporation, cross-media ownership is permitted within limits – press groups may own no more than 25 percent of local television and radio. Newspapers were dominated by the Independent News and Media Group, though diversity in views and political affiliations were seen across the multitude of dailies and weeklies produced in 2006. Internet access is unrestricted by the government, and 50 percent of Irish citizens use the internet regularly.

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