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Freedom of the Press 2008 - Ireland

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 29 April 2008
Cite as Freedom House, Freedom of the Press 2008 - Ireland, 29 April 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4871f60de.html [accessed 20 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: 6 (of 40)
Economic Environment: 5 (of 30)
Total Score: 15 (of 100)
(Lower scores = freer)

Press freedom is constitutionally guaranteed and generally respected in practice. However, archaic defamation laws are still in place under which journalists remain guilty until proven innocent. A defamation bill introduced in late 2006 was still under debate at the end of 2007. The proposed law abolishes criminal, seditious and obscene libel, although it allows for a sentence of up to 5 years for "gravely harmful statements." The law also includes the defense of "reasonable publication," under which journalists will not be held liable for defamatory statements if they acted in accordance with professional ethics and public interest justified publication. The law is expected to give official recognition to the independent press ombudsman and Press Council. The ombudsman, appointed in August 2007, will be responsible for investigating and adjudicating public press complaints. Unresolved cases will be passed along to the Press Council, which was established in January 2007. A privacy law proposed in 2006 was not discussed in the Seanad in 2007 and is unlikely to be passed in the near future.

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 October 2007, the High Court ordered Kennedy and Keena to answer questions before the tribunal or face up to two years in prison or a 300,000 Euro fine. The questioning was postponed pending an appeal scheduled for early 2008. In February, freelance reporter Mick McCaffrey was arrested in connection with an August 2006 article about police mishandling of the1997 arrest and jailing of an innocent man on murder charges. McCaffrey cited a confidential police report in the article. The police demanded McCaffrey reveal his sources and seized his phone records. McCaffrey refused to reveal his source and was released the next day.

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 58 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 2007. Internet access is unrestricted by the government, and 50 percent of Irish citizens use the internet regularly.

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